January 12, 2015 6:26 PM
We are at the point in history where Marihuana Legalization is clearly foreseeable. I attended a forum in May 2014 on Marihuana Legalization sponsored by the Ohio Supreme Court. The focus was not on “IF” or “WHEN”, it was all about “HOW”. That is the primary question facing us now. The first step one has to realize, is that there are some fundamental facts. The most important is that marihuana is not deadly, addictive, nor without medical use as the Ohio government currently says it is.
There are a whole range of uses for marihuana (AKA cannabis or hemp). On one end of the spectrum are the non-consumption industrial applications with the potential to fill in gaps of our industrial & farm economy. Textiles, plastics, fuel, and various oils are obvious uses of the plant. More interesting are the more advanced applications in energy storage such as specially coated nanotubes and the various applications in manufacturing automobiles. At the other end of the spectrum is the human consumption. Human consumption has many forms like food, medicine (an area rich in potential therapeutic application) and of course, smoking.
Opponents of legalization are correct in one respect. There will be large “BIG BUDS” companies, that should grudgingly share the market with “SMALL BUDS” (think Budweiser vs. micro breweries), hopefully ignoring the tiny amount of non-commercial home enthusiasts caring for their personal small garden. A visible legal company is a much better situation than a hidden underground criminal enterprise with no government controls.
The dividing line between the home grower and the “BIG BUD / SMALL BUDS” is that the home grower is not engaged in financial transactions. Consumers should have knowledge of the product they are purchasing with basic health and safety quality controls similar to commercially processed foods and beverages. One word of caution is towards the edibles. I would insert a production delay until product contents, packaging, and labeling requirements are settled; using experience and knowledge leveraged from other states that are further along on the legalization learning curve.
Adaptability is important element in any law, especially in the case of marihuana re-legalization. The Cannabis Control Commission in the recent medical marihuana ballot language has merit. That ballot language has a critical flaw in who chooses the commission membership. A commission should represent a diversity of specialists with knowledge and experience; and be free from financial interest of those making the appointments. A Lincoln-esque team of rivals, with members chosen from and by organizations representing prosecutors, defense attorneys, farmers, industrial, law enforcement, civil rights, marihuana advocates, substance abuse and government representation, would be an ideal group to formulate the rules of the road for marihuana re-legalization.
The cannabis market place should be divided into at least three segments. One proposed market segmentation that deserves consideration is composed of (1) producers, (2) wholesale/processor/distributor, and (3) retail operations. In-between these segments are where government control, taxation mechanisms, and product quality would be ideally located.
Funds generated by taxes will be subject of much discussion. The basic level of taxation should be targeted to eliminate or minimize the black market, and generate enough funds for our drug issues such as the heroin problem, treatment, and mental health needs. I would include a needs-based education grant system, as well as a source of much needed funding for state and local governments. Tax levels should vary based on the level of active content (beer-wine-whiskey analogy). Licensing fees should be tiered based on the size of the operation, along with local taxation and control that is subject to established zoning mechanisms. Financial transactions need to be transparent to eliminate black market influences. The potential dangers on this path to re-legalization are greed and ego.
Criminal record expungement and driver's license suspension are both very important elements of any re-legalization effort but are not addressed by any ballot type efforts I am aware of. Cincinnati City Council recently passed a resolution urging the state legislature and the Governor to consider the expungement of previous marihuana offenses. Additionally the path to removing to Driver's license suspensions has already started with the recent passage of SCR 27 and Governor Kasich letter to Washington. Both these issue can and should be addressed by legislative action in Columbus.
Your own vision may be different than that stated above. This is where various views have to find common ground. Overall a multi-faceted market with government control that is free of criminal black market criminals and corruption is much better than the current environment. But the future is certain; marihuana will be re-legalized, and it needs to be dealt with in a rational manner. Bringing an end to Marihuana Prohibition is the right thing to do, and the right thing to support.