More debate needed on marijuana legalization

Unless a state review of petitions seeking to put a marijuana legalization question before Ohio voters uncovers flaws in the documents, it appears the matter will be on the ballot. Once voters learn details of the proposal, it may leave a bad enough taste in their mouths to send the measure down to defeat.

Officials of Responsible Ohio, the group seeking legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational use, said a few days ago that they have obtained the 550,000 petition signatures needed to put a referendum on the ballot.

But the organization’s proposal is as much one authorizing monopoly control of some aspects of marijuana production as it is an attempt to give the substance’s users freedom to buy and possess it.

As the measure is worded, it would allow marijuana to be produced only at 10 specified sites in the state. Those tracts of land are controlled by investors banking on voter approval to grant them a monopoly. In other words, they want the law of the land in Ohio to give them something drug pushers now have to fight rivals to claim.

Much of the publicity surrounding the issue to date has been from pro-legalization forces. But the election will – or should – be preceded by a more balanced debate that will expose Responsible Ohio’s agenda. Again, many voters will recognize it for what it is.

The relative ease with which Responsible Ohio appears to have landed a spot on the ballot raises other questions, however. One is whether current referendum requirements are too easy to meet – too low barrier to clear for those proposing major changes in Ohio. The 550,000 signatures required amount to less than 5 percent of the state’s population.

Once the current controversy over marijuana monopolies is resolved, it may behoove Ohioans to take another look at whether to set the bar higher, but without unreasonably stifling the ability of Buckeye State residents to initiate changes in their own government.