Legalization, monopoly are different questions

The Way I See It Jason Hawk, editor

We cannot be complicit in creating a cartel. But Ohio is dangerously close to doing just that if a group called ResponsibleOhio gets on the ballot this November.

I’ve gone on record before that I don’t oppose marijuana legalization. Disclaimer: I have no firsthand experience with the drug. I have, however, known a toker or 50 over the years and while they’ve sometimes been a bit scattered the habit has proven mostly harmless.

By way of comparison, I’ve seen alcohol do much worse damage than cannabis. Bar culture is a commonplace and celebrated institution ‘round these parts so we tend to give beer and whiskey a pass. It’s what the twenty-somethings and good ol’ boys so on weekends for fun. Wine has become the way middle class parents take the edge off after the kids are in bed.

We understand that drinks have the same end result as pot (though being black-out drunk is worse, in my estimation) yet only one is criminalized.

The reasons marijuana became demonized in the United States is a subject of debate. The hemp trade flourished in the American colonies in the 17th century for production in rope, textiles, and boat sails. It was even used as legal tender in neighboring Pennsylvania for a period and was a common ingredient in medicines (whether it was effective is a different question). Recreational pot was big in the Roaring Twenties but took a public perception hit when the Great Depression rolled around, largely due to its association with Mexican immigration.

Nearly a century of “Reefer Madness” silliness and billions in failed anti-pot propaganda later, the winds are shifting.

Today, 53 percent of the public favors legalization, according to a spring survey by Pew Research. California was first to approve medical marijuana in the late 1990s and today 23 states and the District of Columbia allow its use in one form or another.

The drug’s status could change soon in Ohio. We’ve been watching ResponsibleOhio seek approval for a state Constitutional amendment for months, making and fixing mistakes with its petitions and submissions and being battled back by Secretary of State John Husted.

There are interesting local stakes should the measure get voter support: ResponsibleOhio wants to create five marijuana testing facilities across the state, including one proposed for Oberlin.

But here is the big drawback: The groupwants to control the production and sale of marijuana in the state.

“It is clear that the marijuana proposal from ResponsibleOhio and the anti-monopoly language proposed by the General Assembly are in conflict with each other,” Husted wrote recently. “Specifically, the section of the ResponsibleOhio proposal that creates a private marijuana monopoly directly conflicts with the General Assembly’s proposal, which seeks to prohibit the creation of such commercial monopolies.”

Now there’s not much anymore that the political Left and the Right in this country agree on, but monopoly is one. Nobody wants a government-endorsed corporation controlling access to any good or service. We should all be together on this issue. Call it what you will — monopoly, cartel, syndicate — barring competition is wrong.

Of course, ResponsibleOhio isn’t the only group seeking legalization, just the loudest and (at the moment) the most mobilized. So there is the possibility that a more libertine pot plan will go before voters at some point.

For now, though, tread with care.