As legalization efforts become more common, voters—and the free market—demand a variety of options.
Image via Flickr user Coleen Whitfield
One of the worries with marijuana legalization, at least amongst activists and smokers, is that America’s big corporations—tobacco, for instance—would get into the business and lobby to create a pot monopoly. It’s the paranoid pot user’s conspiratorial nightmare.
In this marijuana dystopia, corporations and politicians would write laws that create barriers of entry (high startup costs), effectively preventing new players from enjoying the fruits of a new free market. While Colorado’s legalized marijuana sector is more or less free, with no major monopolistic corporate interests lording over the crop and products, the exact opposite almost happened in Ohio.
On Tuesday, the Buckeye State voted no on Ballot Issue 3, a measure that would have simultaneously legalized both recreational and medicinal marijuana, a first for the nation. Legal marijuana sounds great for Ohio, right? Plenty of new businesses and employment. Not so fast—there was a major problem with Issue 3.
Under the ballot measure, people 21 years or older would be allowed to cultivate four marijuana plants on their property, as well as legally buy for personal use. But only 10 farms in the entire state—conveniently, the investors behind the ballot measure—would be allowed to cultivate marijuana for commercial use. Another ballot measure, Issue 2, called on voters to vote no on Issue 3 in its current commercial, monopolistic form. And voters did by the tune of 1,958,802 to 1,094,289 votes.
Marijuana drying. Image by Cannabis Training University via Wikimedia Commons.
The Buckeye State is infamously pro-business in its politics, and this political philosophy of oligarchical capitalism was running headlong into Ohio’s marijuana legalization. If it voters had said yes to Issue 3, it could have laid the groundwork for other big businesses looking to opportunistically get into weed. These businesses would get to benefit from legalization without having participated in the decades of activism that made it possible.
NORML, a national organization that has campaigned for marijuana legalization since 1970 (unlike these 10 farms), supported Issue 3. However, it also saw the 10-farm rule as problematic for users. NORML believes marijuana users need options, not another system of control after decades of state prohibition.
And, indeed, in a free market, there should be a variety of options. No one marijuana businesses should be elevated by government. There should be no favorites, no barriers of entry as there almost was in Ohio. For one thing, if this had happened, then people historically incarcerated at higher rates than whites for growing and selling marijuana (particularly black Americans) would not have been able to benefit from the new, legal venue for its growth and sale.
That’s not free-market capitalism. It’s big businesses rigging the system through lobbying power. And the United States already has enough of that business.