Did you know that it is perfectly legal to lie in a political campaign? Sounds false, doesn’t it? Ohio, where weird new concepts like “Responsible Ohio” come to roost, found itself at the nexus of a court decision that made lying and deception perfectly legal. It gave RO card carrying membership in the Funny Numbers Club.

   Last September 2014, a federal judge struck down an Ohio law that permitted the Ohio Elections Commission to regulate political speech, particularly egregious falsehoods. The case centered around a complaint filed by then-Ohio Representative Steven Driehaus that billboards to be erected by the Susan B. Anthony List (SBA) were factually incorrect. Driehaus sued the SBA, which in turn filed a brief in federal court to overturn the law, stating that bars against false political speech violate the First Amendment right to free speech. Even though a lower court and an appeals court turned down this counter intuitive challenge, the U.S. Supreme Court took up the case and, ruling in favor of the SBA, remanded it back to the lower court, where egregious falsehoods – and funny numbers – became A-OK.

   Almost simultaneously, Responsible Ohio burst on the scene, promoting an amendment that would carve 10 investor owned mega-marijuana grows into the Ohio constitution, with those investors not only paying for the initiative, but also profiting from it in perpetuity to the exclusion of all other competitors. By any other name, it is a secret, self-serving cartel. Honoring the newly codified right to lie, RO recently published a slate of funny numbers in a graphic entitled, “Ohio’s Legal Marijuana Market in 2020,” to promote its economic benefits to unwitting Ohio voters, now the sole arbiters of truth according to the court’s decision.

    Simple cursory analyses of RO’s graphic finds it wanting. First, there are no numbers for medical marijuana, yet this use of the plant is specifically named in the first line of RO’s ballot language. Then, the graphic includes a non-existent “Compassionate Care Fund.” Look at the language. Do you see such a fund named there? Moreover, there is no funding for dispensaries. Why? Because they only receive money “to the extent the Commission so elects.” Can you say red herring? The graphic offers the perfect illustration. Score one for egregious falsehoods.

   A more in depth look at the graphic reveals a taxing system that goes from grower, to processor (whatever that is – not named in the ballot language) to retail. For retail sales, RO forecasted 262 metric tons consumed in 2020, seemingly based on an Ohio population of 11,574,850. Were that so, every single man, woman and child would be a marijuana user! More likely, they’d want to consider just those age 21 and older (7,964,610), and then whittle that number to actual users, let’s say just 9% of Ohio’s population. (In 2013, 579,000 or 7.3% of Ohioans were monthly marijuana users according to the NSDUH). Ohio is no Colorado. On this basis, more realistically, the metric tons used in Ohio would be equal to or less than Colorado (130) or Washington (175), reducing RO’s touted tax impact by at least on third, and that’s retail sales only. Apply some metrics – and reality – to gross sales for growers and “processors,” and those tax numbers would likely fall by equally precipitous amounts.

   The Columbus Dispatch recently decried the tax proceeds from legalized gaming on which the RO scheme is modeled, stating “…the promises made during the 2009 campaign remain largely unfulfilled. And it appears doubtful they ever will be fulfilled.” History is repeating itself. A group that is both paying for and profiting from a constitutional amendment is grossly exaggerating tax proceeds to lure cash strapped cities and counties. But this time there is a different twist – it perfectly legal!

   To paraphrase an astute observer of the SBA case, "Groups who can't win based off of the facts or the merit of their argument often resort to lying and deceiving the public. The public, and the press, is now put on notice to not take anything that comes out of [Responsible Ohio] as truthful or fact based." Consequently, when it comes to RO and its Funny Numbers Club, buyer beware.