This may seem like a strange post for most of Huffington Post's readers. Why wouldn't someone who smokes pot want Ohio to legalize marijuana in 2015? If you ask some marijuana activists, they'll sum it up in two words: constitutional cartel.
See, ResponsibleOhio, the group that may pass marijuana legalization in Ohio before California does it next year, raised the money to get on the ballot by promising only the ten investor groups that ponied up will get to run the ten constitutionally-defined commercial marijuana farms.
That has some true believers screaming "oligopoly!" and vowing to defeat Ohio's first-ever viable marijuana legalization proposal. But here are the six reasons why smart pot smokers will vote to pass legalization this November in Ohio.
The Good Stuff is on Par With Other Legal States, or Better
Under ResponsibleOhio, adults could possess one ounce of marijuana in public, grow four marijuana plants at home, and possess eight ounces at home. One ounce possession is standard in all the legalized states, four plants is Oregon's limit, three mature plants is Colorado's, and no home grow is allowed in Washington. There will also be a commercial grow system supplying retail shops, processors, and extractors, with all products tested by labs.
Even better, ResponsibleOhio defines hashish and extracts within its one ounce (28.4 grams) legal possession limit. Currently, possession of just ten grams of extract in Ohio is a felony that gets our consumer a year in prison and a $2,500 fine. Five grams will get our consumer a 30-day misdemeanor and less than five grams gets our consumer the same minor misdemeanor currently set for up to 100 grams of herb.
Decriminalization Still Means Punishing Pot Smokers
Today in Ohio, possession of up to 100 grams (3.5 ounces) is a minor misdemeanor. This is popularly called decriminalization, and NORML's website says that "a minor misdemeanor does not create a criminal record in Ohio."
So today, our consumer caught with personal amounts of weed is going to be fined $150, and another $150 for paraphernalia, and lose driving privileges for at least six months. That same punishment exists for sharing 20 grams or less with an adult friend. Get caught sharing a second time and you get 30 days in jail; share more than 20 grams and you're looking at a felony with a year in prison.
But when ResponsibleOhio passes, an ounce of marijuana is legal. That means our consumer can use paraphernalia and share up to an ounce with adult friends with no penalty whatsoever. I also find nothing in the amendment that revokes the current Ohio minor misdemeanor for amounts between an ounce and 100 grams.
Currently under Ohio law, cultivation is treated as possession, with the weight of your plants triggering the punishment. So, if our consumer has little seedlings weighing less than 3.5 ounces total, it's a minor misdemeanor. 7 ounces worth of planta is a 30-day misdemeanor. Over 7 ounces in plants is a felony that ranges from 6 months to 8 years, depending on total plant weight. When ResponsibleOhio passes, you can get a home grow license for $50 and grow four plants of any size.
It's The Best Medical Marijuana Law East of the Rockies
ResponsibleOhio creates medical marijuana, too. There will be not-for-profit Medical Marijuana Dispensaries ("MMD") that serve patients. The typical eight conditions will qualify -- cancer, HIV+/AIDS, glaucoma, and conditions causing cachexia, spasms, seizures, nausea, and pain -- as well as PTSD, Crohn's, Hep C, and sickle-cell that are only covered in a few of the 23 medical marijuana states. Patients will be able to grow their own medicine, something forbidden in eleven medical marijuana states. Patients will be able to smoke or vaporize marijuana, something forbidden in the last three states to have passed medical marijuana. Medical marijuana wouldn't be taxed, it must be sold at lowest wholesale price, and taxes from recreational marijuana would help fund a program to provide medicine to the indigent.
It would be the most liberal medical marijuana law passed since Michigan's in 2008, even allowing patients to administer their medicine at their workplace, which no other state has allowed! It would create a medical marijuana program with more qualifying conditions than Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Alaska; greater cultivation allowances than Colorado and Washington; and greater home possession allowances than Washington and Alaska and equal to Oregon.
Police Don't Want You to Take Away Their Easy Probable Cause
You can bet that the police, sheriffs, and state cops will be fighting against marijuana legalization in Ohio. It's no wonder, since passing ResponsibleOhio removes many of the probable causes cops use to bust people for weed. When ResponsibleOhio passes, an ounce of marijuana is legal. That means it is no longer contraband, which means the smell or sight of it is no longer a probable cause for police to begin detaining and searching our consumer in the first place. It means pot-sniffing dogs get retired, just like in Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska. The various clues revealing cannabis production - a skunky smell, trips to the grow shop, purchases of lights, stems and leaves in the garbage, electric bills, infrared scans, etc. - are no longer probable cause for cops to obtain search warrants.
The results of legalization in Washington and Colorado were that charges for ALL marijuana crimes dropped by 63% and 80%, respectively (more in Colorado because home growing is legal).
It's Better than the Cartel You're Dealing With Now
Some people are upset that ResponsibleOhio restricts commercial marijuana growing to just ten entities written into the state constitution. It certainly is a stupid business plan, but it's not a valid reason to continue the punishment of marijuana consumers and home growers.
The fact is that right now, marijuana in Ohio is under the control of home growers and criminal cartels. ResponsibleOhio is going to legalize home growing and transfer commercial growing from criminal cartels to a legal business cartel. How does that make anything worse, for consumers who are now legal and have places to shop, or for illegal growers, who are no more illegal and far less likely to get caught?
These doomsayers will say it's in the constitution, it'll never be changed, you'll be stuck with ten growers forever. But c'mon, as more states legalize and the feds eventually drop prohibition, how much pressure will there be, economically and politically, to open up that market? Besides, total prohibition never stopped home growers and out-of-state growers from doing business. Limiting to ten commercial marijuana farms won't, either.
Ohio is the 2016 Presidential Election Swing State
Ohio's legalization will not occur in a vacuum. California, Nevada, and other states are waiting on deck for 2016. Will they have to fight a shift in political momentum after a fresh defeat for legalization in Ohio? Or will they cruise on the wave of legalization that saw Colorado and Washington win in 2012, Oregon and Alaska win in 2014, and Ohio win in 2015?
Legalization of marijuana in Ohio in 2015 will put the marijuana legalization issue even more strongly into the 2016 Presidential Election. That battleground swing state is the key to a Republican victory; it's been decades since the GOP won without it. A loss there in 2015 could embolden certain GOP candidates to be even tougher on existing marijuana legalization, while a victory there could force them to tone down the anti-pot rhetoric.