Ohioans Decide Whether to Let Investors Control Legalized Marijuana

Investors Eyeing Legalized Marijuana Market
  • Amendent would allow medicinal and recreational marijuana
  • Drug production and supply would be controlled by companies

Ohio voters are deciding today whether to make their state the first in the Midwest to legalize marijuana, while giving control of growing the drug to 10 investor groups that include basketball star Oscar Robertson and former boy-band singer Nick Lachey.

A proposed constitutional amendment on today’s ballot would allow both medicinal and recreational marijuana for adults. It would restrict growing sites to 10 locations controlled by investors to supply medical dispensaries, retail outlets and manufacturers.

A coalition of opponents, including elected officials, children’s hospitals and business groups, are fighting the proposal on grounds that investors shouldn’t get an exclusive claim to profit, and that marijuana is bad for the state. Supporters envision a regulated business generating $554 million in annual taxes and thousands of jobs by 2020.

“We’re taking it from tie-dye to suit-and-tie in Ohio,” said investor Alan Mooney, principal of Mooney Wealth Advisory Inc. in suburban Columbus.

A University of Akron poll released on Oct. 20 showed voters were evenly divided, with 46 percent for, a similar proportion against and 8 percent undecided.

QuickTake Marijuana

Since 2012, Alaska, Colorado, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use and 23 states have approved medical pot, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

While states often limit the number of marijuana businesses, Ohio would be the first to restrict growing sites using its constitution, the Marijuana Policy Project in Washington has said. Ten investment groups initially put up $4 million each, half for land acquisition and site development and half for the campaign to get the issue on the ballot and pass it, said Ian James of ResponsibleOhio, the committee promoting the issue.

Among the 23 investors identified by ResponsibleOhio is Robertson, known as “The Big O.” He played for the Cincinnati Royals and Milwaukee Bucks and was the longest-serving president of the National Basketball Association Players Association. Another is Lachey, a Cincinnati native and member of the band 98 Degrees.

Responsible Ohio has aired more than $3 million in television ads supporting the amendment and could spend $9 million on the entire campaign, said Bob Clegg of Midwest Communications & Media in suburban Columbus. The effort focused mostly on medical marijuana, which polls show has strong support, as well as the potential economic impact of legalization.

Governor John Kasich, a Republican presidential candidate, said he voted absentee against the measure because legalizing marijuana would hamper anti-drug efforts.

“When you run around telling kids not to do drugs, young kids, and then they read that we might legalize marijuana, I just think it’s a mixed message that’s not good,” Kasich told reporters in Columbus on Oct. 26.

Even if the ballot issue passes today, it might not be settled. There’s a competing measure to block the marijuana measure by preventing the constitution from being used “to grant a monopoly, oligopoly or cartel.”

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