It was headline writers heaven. “Budding business flames out.” “Plans up in smoke.” And a personal favorite, “O-High-No.”
The crushing defeat of State Issue 3 sparked a pot-full of creative captions for election night’s biggest story. Ohioans, asked to legalize marijuana, just said no. Or, did they really say “not this way.”
The ballot measure, which would have given a small group of investors a monopoly to commercially grow and sell marijuana, lost nearly 2 to 1. But the vote doesn’t appear to have been a rejection of legal weed. It was a rejection of “big.” We tend not to like big business, big government and, now we know, big pot. What happens, though, when the next proposal isn’t perceived to be so blatantly capitalistic? We’re going to find out soon.
Backers of the failed Issue 3 promised on election night “We’re not going away.” No surprise. But what was eye-opening was when traditionally conservative state lawmakers said they’re willing to consider some form of legalization. Nor have voters said all they want to say. In spite of turning down Issue 3, polling found that 84 percent of Ohio’s registered voters support legalizing marijuana for medicinal purposes, and 52 percent approve legalizing small amounts for personal use. Clearly, marijuana policy is ripe for rethinking.
Farm Bureau members are already offering up some food for thought.
Last month, delegates to our annual meeting established some guiding principles for the forthcoming debate. While Farm Bureau policy opposes recreational use, delegates acknowledged there’s lots to talk about. We believe that as the conversation ramps up it should be informed by sound science and research. We think regulation should cover things such as how to control access to the product, oversight of growers and dealing with workplace concerns. Careful consideration should be given to how the industry would be taxed and how we would fund treatment for abusers. Under any circumstances, Farm Bureau opposes monopoly ownership and amending the constitution as a path to legalization.
As important as what to talk about is the question of who should do the talking. In a word, everyone. If Ohio were to move forward with any type of legalization, there would be virtually no one’s life or pocketbook unaffected. With so much at stake, no voice should go unheard. Doctors and public health officials, school leaders, law enforcement, employers, local and state government officials, members of the faith community and farmers all need to be at the table.
I’m hopeful that Farm Bureau members will be as active in the next marijuana dialogue as they were in the last one. I’m proud of the thousands of members who posted yard signs and tweets, talked to their neighbors and went to the polls. That degree of participation is going to be even more essential going forward because, I predict, marijuana is going to become legal in some fashion. Like alcohol and gambling, behaviors once prohibited evolve to where they become acceptable. For marijuana, the issue isn’t if, it’s how.
How we deal with marijuana, as a medicine or intoxicant, will be decided by those who engage. I encourage you to not only stand up for your views but be open to those of others. Be thoughtful and respectful. Whether or not you mind people getting high, this issue deserves discourse that’s high-minded.
John C. (Jack) Fisher
Ohio Farm Bureau executive vice president
Published in the January/February 2016 issue of Our Ohio.