Words You'll Hear: 'Marijuana Monopoly'
MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
Now we turn to our feature Words You'll Hear. That's where we highlight one of the big stories of the coming week by parsing one or two of the words associated with it. For this week's conversation, it's actually a phrase - marijuana monopoly. Now, I know that sounds like an unauthorized version of a popular board game, but it is not. It's actually an idea at the heart of the debate over whether to legalize marijuana in Ohio. We're talking about it because the issue is on the ballot this coming week. Lewis Wallace is an economics reporter with WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, and he's with us now to tell us all about it. Lewis, thanks so much for joining us.
LEWIS WALLACE, BYLINE: Thanks for having me.
MARTIN: So to begin with, what's a marijuana monopoly? It just - I mean - I'm not trying to be mean but actually kind of sounds like a drug cartel?
WALLACE: Right, so the idea that this is a monopoly is itself a little bit controversial. But basically, the way this marijuana amendment would work if it passes is that it would grant growing rights to just 10 groups of investors in Ohio. So there would only be 10 growing sites in the state, and groups of wealthy investors already have the rights to those sites, meaning nobody else - your small farmer couldn't sort of step in and become a part of this, at least not until quite a bit later.
MARTIN: What's the logic of that? Why?
WALLACE: The idea, according to ResponsibleOhio, which is the group sponsoring this amendment, is one, to make it easier to just regulate and track all the marijuana that's grown in the state, and two because they needed somebody to bankroll this campaign. And so they signed up this group of investors early on. They're planning to spend $20 million by the time Tuesday is up.
MARTIN: Investors - I understand that there are some interesting names associated with this.
WALLACE: Right, so these 10 groups are really kind of amazing. They include people like former NBA star Oscar Robertson, NFL player Frostee Rucker, Nick Lachey from the boy band 98 Degrees. There's a couple of people in Cincinnati who are relatives of the late-President William H. Taft, all of whom are part of investing in this marijuana initiative in Ohio.
MARTIN: How likely is the passage of this amendment? What are people saying about it? Where's public opinion going on this?
WALLACE: The most recent poll that I looked at from the University of Akron shows that it's basically a neck-and-neck race, and there's about 8 percent of voters still undecided. So it's really going to depend on those folks to pass Issue 3.
MARTIN: That's what it's called - Issue 3 - that's where it is on the ballot. So where are the political alliances shaking out on this?
WALLACE: Well, we have our traditional marijuana legalization opponents - chambers of commerce, a lot of Republican legislators. And then we have our traditional marijuana legalization proponents, like people who are really into medical marijuana feel like this is a really important initiative. Then there's a lot of people that fall in this weird in-between place. So there are some Republicans who are part of this kind of getting in at the ground level investment process with this marijuana initiative. And there are some pretty far to the left marijuana advocates who think this is the wrong way to do it, that it shouldn't be a monopoly or an oligopoly that's limited to certain growers. And so they don't want to pass this particular amendment.
MARTIN: So not to get too far into the weeds, what's the significance to the nationwide effort to legalize marijuana? Obviously, a lot of people are taking a look at this outside of the state. Why is that?
WALLACE: Ohio would be the most populous state to legalize medical and recreational marijuana. It would also be the first state to do it in this way, where it kind of comes out of the gate saying we're really only going to allow certain people in on the ground floor in terms of growing rights. So that's where this marijuana monopoly concept is really important. And if it does pass, I think we will be hearing about it a lot because it kind of sets a different precedent than other marijuana legalization efforts in other states.
MARTIN: Lewis Wallace is an economics reporter with WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, telling us about marijuana monopolies. Lewis Wallace, thanks so much for speaking with us.
WALLACE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.