Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol: “The two biggest groups against Issue 2 are drug dealers and Michigan dispensaries”
Kenny Schweickart and marijuana images

After decades of advocating for fully legal recreational marijuana, there is lament amongst some older stoners and hippies now that Ohio is on the cusp with Issue 2.

The Columbus Free Press, for instance, has been advocating for fully legal marijuana for half a century. Columbus was a place in the 1970s where the Columbus Police Department (CPD) would rough you up for having a joint in your cig pack. In the 80s and 90s, a pot arrest could destroy careers. Yet when the Free Press tried to get some medical growers and local medical dispensaries onboard as advertisers at the beginning of the 2020s, many scoffed.

Only one of the state’s current medical growers, Buckeye Relief, chose to advertise with the Free Press. Paying $500 for the first three months which included daily promotions of their products on Free Press social media, but never made another payment. Buckeye Relief, its state-of-the-art grow rooms just outside Cleveland, then promptly turned to the group spearheading Issue 2 – The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol – and handed them $50,000.

Those poised in Ohio to move seamlessly into selling legal recreational are the state’s current medical providers, and Buckeye Relief claims to sell the most medical products in the state. The legal marijuana market nationwide is expected to reach $43 billion by 2025.

Kenny Schweickart of Columbus (pictured above from the 1990s) is more affectionately known as “Cannabis Kenny.” He entered “the activist arena hardcore back in 1995,” he says. He was, and this isn’t hyperbole, unyielding in his promotion of legal cannabis for responsible adults. On the frontlines of this fight, he witnessed firsthand the maddening slow march for this plant to finally win acceptance.

“Considering how draconian it is to prohibit a plant in the first place, and not just any plant, yes, this is a big deal, a milestone moment,” said Schweickart.

Ohio medical was legalized in 2016. Now the state could become the 24th for fully legal adult use. One of Schweickart’s longtime laments is how it took – and still takes – big money to make some dank green.

“Needing to be rich to enter the market is a sore spot, as well as all the capital flocking towards the flower rather than launching the utilitarian, has been frustrating,” he says.

Nonetheless, with just days to go before what appears to be a convincing victory, Schweickart can’t deny the euphoria. He’s also aware the “Holy Rollers” at the Statehouse have an out. Issue 2 is an initiated citizen-driven statute, and the state legislature can make changes. But even the lame-o stiffs at the Statehouse can’t kill Cannabis Kenny’s current high.

“We have come such a long way, it gives me goosebumps, definitely a sense of a job well done,” he says. “But do non-profits that did all the work setting the stage have any realistically affordable pathways to market entry? Will backdoor racism stop?”

The astroturf-ish (not entirely grassroots) Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol raised $3 million just in the first six months of this year. The Marijuana Policy Project – the nation’s most prolific legalization effort ever – contributed $1.3 million of that. The Coalition then paid $3 million to Advanced Micro Targeting of Texas to collect the needed signatures to get on the November 7 ballot.

The Coalition’s spokesperson, Tom Haren, is an attorney near Cleveland and a registered Republican. If this were the 1990s, let alone the 1970s, cannabis activists would have coughed out their bong hits in shock and disgust. Republicans pooped on stoners and cannabis activists for decades. GOP politicians scapegoated stoners during election season while they sniffed cocaine on the top of toilets in a bar.

Haren insists Issue 2 is about righting past wrongs. Not about non-marijuana using rich white guys making more easy money off one of mankind’s most misunderstood and maligned plants. For perspective on how bad it once was, from 2001 to 2010 there were over 8 million marijuana arrests in the US. With Black Americans four times more likely to be arrested.

Haren wants many past and present cannabis activists to understand that “number one, Issue 2 will end marijuana prohibition here in Ohio.”

“It corrects a substantial injustice as it relates to marijuana enforcement. For too long it’s been too easy for folks to have their lives ruined by even one small interaction with the criminal justice system and that ends with Issue 2,” he said.

Haren said initially there will be “50 new social equity dispensary licenses” and “40 new social equity cultivator licenses.” The state can then “issue as many licenses as deemed necessary once the program is up and running.”

To qualify for a social equity license the applicant must fall under either a social or economic disadvantage. The wealth of the applicant, for instance. Being part of a racial minority group. Having a prior conviction for marijuana.

“Another thing that Issue 2 does is, is that it legalizes home grow,” said Haren. “To the answer question that this is a big money grab, well, people can grow their own marijuana at their own house.”

Issue 2 will establish a 10 percent tax at the point of sale. Just like in Michigan, where the fully legal product is far more affordable compared to Ohio medical products. A recent Ohio State study estimates the program after several years could generate $400 million in new annual tax revenue for state coffers.

“Issue 2 directs that money to four specific buckets,” says Haren. “3 percent for general oversight and administrative costs. 25 percent to a substance abuse and addiction fund. 36 percent to a host community cannabis fund, which essentially is a bucket of money that gets distributed to local governments that have adult use dispensaries. And the remaining 36 percent, around $145 million a year, would go to a social equity and jobs fund. And that money will be used to offset application costs and fees for social equity applicants, and to provide technical assistant.”

Haren adds some of the social equity tax revenue raised will also be used to study and fund criminal justice reform efforts, bail reform, legal aid, and community policing.

Eye-opening is how there’s even more altruism if Issue 2 wins. And this isn’t “lofty goals”, says Haren, “this is actual language from Issue 2.”

“Direct investment in disproportionately impacted communities [due to past marijuana prohibition] will be used to enhance education, entrepreneurism, youth development, violence prevention and the arts,” he says.

Issue 2’s approach to social equity is “somewhat unique” to the nation and within the industry in general.

“We ultimately decided, and I think appropriately, you just don’t address social equity by issuing licenses,” said Haren. “You have to ensure the industry is representative of Ohio as a whole. You also have to focus on restorative justice and remedying the effects of marijuana prohibition on these disproportionately impacted communities.”

Way back in the 1990s, “Cannabis Kenny” was telling anyone who would listen that this plant had way more uses than just getting lit, stoney-baloney, chilled to max, etc. From medicinal, to paper, to textiles, to fuel.

“Seeing is believing wasn’t good enough for the legislators or the medical community,” he says. “Yes, this is a big deal.”