TIME Marijuana

Ohio Legislature Strikes Back Against Marijuana Legalization Bid

Marijuana plants grow on the grounds of the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica, June 9, 2015.
ROBYN BECK—AFP/Getty Images Marijuana plants grow on the grounds of the Bob Marley Museum in Kingston, Jamaica, June 9, 2015. AFP PHOTO/ROBYN BECK (Photo credit should read ROBYN BECK/AFP/Getty Images)

A campaign to legalize marijuana in Ohio took a step closer to making November’s ballot Tuesday, after its promoters turned in more than twice the required number of signatures.

But the measure will face competition at the polls. Ohio legislators also approved their own ballot measure on Tuesday to undermine the pot plan, which lawmakers worried would amount to a “marijuana monopoly” because of its provision that only 10 growers would control the wholesale pot market.
The lawmakers’ measure would block other measures that benefit select economic interest groups.

The marijuana ballot measure campaign, dubbed Responsible Ohio, is just one of many ballot measures in recent history that are designed to benefit their backers. The companies funding the Responsible Ohio campaign would control — and likely profit from — the marijuana growth sites should the measure pass.

As detailed by the Center for Public Integrity, the campaign’s director, Democratic activist Ian James, came up with the idea and is planning to pay his own firm $5.6 million to push the ballot initiative.

MORE: How an Ohio Ballot Measure Could Create a Marijuana Monopoly

Ohio Rep. Mike Curtin, a Democrat, said he sponsored the anti-monopoly measure because he opposes the way Responsible Ohio is using the citizen-initiated constitutional amendment, not because he opposes pot legalization.

“Are we going to allow a small group of investors, who have literally no background in drug policy… to carve themselves a special niche in our state’s founding document?” he said. “To me it’s galling. It’s nauseating.”

But James said voters should have the right to decide the issue.

“Some statehouse politicians believe the voters are smart enough to elect them, but they aren’t smart enough to decide ballot issues like marijuana legalization,” he said in an earlier statement.

James’ group still has to wait for the Secretary of State to determine if enough of its signatures are valid to make the ballot, which could take several weeks. It submitted 695,273 signatures to the state, far more than the 305,591 registered voters it needs to qualify.

If voters approve both of the conflicting measures, Ohio law says whichever gets the most votes would win.

But Secretary of State Jon Husted, a Republican, recently said that if both passed, the legislatively referred anti-monopoly measure would block Responsible Ohio’s plan because citizen-initiated measures take 30 days to go into effect.

The issue could end up before a judge.

If both pass, “we have a very interesting court fight on our hands,” Curtin said.

This story is from The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative media organization in Washington, D.C. Read more of its investigations on the influence of money in politics or follow it on Twitter.

TIME Rand Paul

Rand Paul Becomes First Major-Party Candidate to Court Pot Donors

Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during a campaign stop at an Embassy Suites hotel on June 29, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.
Ethan Miller—Getty Images Republican presidential candidate U.S. Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) speaks during a campaign stop at an Embassy Suites hotel on June 29, 2015 in Las Vegas, Nevada.

DENVER (AP) — Republican presidential candidate Rand Paul courted donors from the new marijuana industry Tuesday, making the Kentucky senator the first major-party presidential candidate to publicly seek support from the legal weed business.

Paul’s fundraiser at the Cannabis Business Summit — tickets started at $2,700, the maximum donation allowed for the primary contest — came as the marijuana industry approached its first presidential campaign as a legal enterprise.

The candidate entered the closed-door fundraiser through a private hallway, instead of visiting the convention floor or meeting pot business owners who weren’t donating to him.

But many of the 40 or so people who attended the fundraiser called his appearance at the summit a milestone. The campaign did not release fundraising totals.

“This is a historical moment, that our industry is now working together with a presidential candidate,” said Tripp Keber, owner of Denver-based Dixie Elixirs, which makes cannabis-infused sodas and sweets.

Another fundraiser attendee, Mitzi Vaughn of Seattle, managing attorney for a law firm that caters to pot businesses, said Paul criticized drug war-era policies but didn’t specifically say what would change if he were elected.

“Most of us, despite what others think, are in this to end the drug war,” Vaughn said.

Though legal weed business owners have been active political donors for years, presidential candidates have so far shied away from holding fundraisers made up entirely of marijuana-related entrepreneurs.

Former Republican New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson held a fundraiser with the Drug Policy Alliance in 2012 before leaving the GOP and running as a third-party candidate. But that event came before recreational pot was legal in any state.

“It really speaks to how important this issue is and how far it’s come,” said Mason Tvert, a spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project, a major sponsor of legalization campaigns in Colorado, Washington and other states.

“We’re seeing officials at the local, state and now federal level recognize this is now a legitimate industry, just like any other legal industry in many facets,” Tvert said.

Paul has embraced state marijuana experiments, while other candidates have either taken a wait-and-see approach or expressly vowed to challenge state legalization efforts.

Paul has joined Democrats in the Senate to sponsor a bill to end the federal prohibition on the use of medical marijuana. He also backs an overhaul of federal drug-sentencing guidelines, along with a measure to allow marijuana businesses to access banking services.

Asked last year whether marijuana should be legal, Paul said, “I haven’t really taken a stand on that, but I’m against the federal government telling (states) they can’t.”

TIME medicine

Minnesota Takes Half Step Toward Legalizing Marijuana

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Getty Images

Pills and oils are approved, but smoking marijuana remains prohibited

Minnesota eased a statewide ban on medical marijuana products Wednesday, approving the use of pills and oils for seriously ill patients, while upholding a ban on products that can be smoked.

Under the new law, users will be able to use liquid and pill extracts of marijuana plants, provided they are suffering from serious conditions such as epilepsy, HIV and cancer, the Associated Press reports. The law also restricts sales to only eight dispensaries within the state.

While legalization advocates hailed the new rules as a step forward, they argued that Minnesota’s approach was unusually restrictive, potentially excluding patients living in rural areas or on tight budgets from obtaining the drugs.

[AP]

MONEY freebies

Oregon Is Celebrating Marijuana Legalization With Free Weed

crowd of people smoking marijuana
Jim West—Alamy

Not only are people free to smoke weed—the weed is free.

As of July 1, new Oregon laws go into effect making it legal for adults ages 21 and up to possess and use recreational marijuana. It’s legal to grow marijuana in the state—up to four plants per residence, out of public view—and share it with other of-age adults too.

Applications for large-scale growers and retailers aren’t being accepted until early 2016, and no Oregon stores are expected to have marijuana for sale until the fall of 2016. For the time being, then, while recreational marijuana use is legal, people aren’t allowed to buy or sell it.

The odd situation—weed is legal, but there’s nowhere to buy it—has caused marijuana proponents and entrepreneurs to take the very welcomed step of simply giving samples away. The Oregonian reports that the Portland chapter of NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) will celebrate the momentous event by gathering on the west side of the Burnside Bridge at 11:30 p.m. on Tuesday, June 30. At midnight (therefore July 1), all 21+ adults with ID will be given free marijuana and cannabis seeds, courtesy of medical marijuana providers and activists.

“While it becomes legal to possess and cultivate cannabis, there is no legal place in Oregon to buy marijuana itself or cannabis seeds and starts,” a statement from the group explains. “Portland NORML will educate the public and our partners will give away thousands of seeds and hundreds of pounds of marijuana this year so Washington State and the black market do not benefit from our new marijuana legality.”

Later in the week, on Friday, July 3, an event called Weed the People is being held at the MCF Craft Brewing Systems facility in North Portland. Admission to the event isn’t free—advance tickets cost $40—but once visitors are inside, marijuana is indeed free to use on the premises or bring home for later enjoyment. Each attendee is welcomed to take as much as 7 grams, cultivated by a range of Oregon growers that have been producing the state’s supply of medicinal marijuana.

“This is more than free weed,” organizers say on the event site. “This is more than vendors, food and vapes. This is history in the making!”

Read next: What This 20-Year Study on Marijuana Use Means for the Pot Market

TIME Canada

Vancouver Votes to Regulate Marijuana Stores, but Canada’s Government Isn’t Happy About It

Visitors walk past a flag similiar to th
MARK RALSTON—AFP/Getty Images Visitors walk past a flag similiar to the Canadian one but showing a cannabis plant instead of a maple leaf at a store in Eastside Vancouver during the Vancouver Winter Olympics on February 22, 2010

City's move fuels debate surrounding marijuana legalization in the lead-up to October's federal election

Vancouver’s city council has voted to regulate the city’s many marijuana shops, becoming the first Canadian city to take the step, the Guardian reports.

Marijuana is illegal in Canada, but access to medical marijuana is not for those with a prescription. That allows Vancouver’s many pot shops — some say they outnumber Starbucks outlets in the city — to offer weed in a pseudo-medical manner, often with naturopaths on the premises available for consultation.

Municipal authorities in Vancouver will now impose zoning controls and license fees in a bid to get a handle on the trade. The city’s police force is also tolerant, claiming that cracking down on the stores has not been a priority.

Canada’s conservative government has voiced its displeasure, however. Federal Health Minister Rona Ambrose has ordered the council to vote down the policy and the police to enforce the law.

Geoff Plant, the former attorney general of British Columbia, told the Guardian that the federal government was “increasingly out of touch.” He said, “They are stuck in a ‘reefer madness’, non-evidence-based position.”

There is heated debate surrounding marijuana legalization in Canada in the lead-up to October’s federal election. According to the CBC, British Columbia has the highest support for legalization in the country, at around 46%.

[Guardian]

TIME medicine

Here’s What Science Says About Medical Marijuana

It’s buyer-beware for medical marijuana users, since the data supporting the benefits of cannabinoids are still in flux, and most marijuana edibles aren’t well labeled

There’s a big difference between anecdotal evidence and scientific proof, and the field of medical marijuana research is filled with more of the former than the latter—in part because marijuana is notoriously difficult to study because it’s classified as a schedule-1 drug.

Scientists led by Penny Whiting from University Hospitals Bristol in the U.K. report in JAMA that there is only moderate-quality evidence supporting the benefits of medical marijuana, and only for certain conditions. The majority of studies involving medical marijuana are of lesser quality and therefore more likely to be biased and provide unreliable results.

MORE: Teens Don’t Smoke More Pot After Medical Marijuana Laws Passed, Study Finds

In all, Whiting and her colleagues analyzed 79 randomized trials, the gold standard in medical research in which volunteers are randomly assigned to take a cannabis-related product or a placebo. The studies evaluated marijuana’s ability to relieve a range of symptoms including nausea from chemotherapy, loss of appetite among HIV positive patients, multiple sclerosis spasms, depression, anxiety, sleep disorders, psychosis and Tourette syndrome. Most of the studies showed improvements among the participants taking the cannabinoid products over those using placebo, but in many, the scientists admitted that they could not be sure that the effect wasn’t simply due to chance since the association was not statistically significant.

MORE: The Great Pot Experiment

The strongest trials supported cannabinoids’ ability to relieve chronic pain, while the least reliable evidence involved things like nausea and vomiting from chemotherapy, sleep disturbances and Tourette syndrome. Cannabinoids were, however, connected to more adverse events such as nausea, vomiting, dizziness, disorientation and hallucinations than placebo.

Summing up the state of the evidence, Whiting and her colleagues write that “Further large, robust, randomized clinical trials are needed to confirm the effects of cannabinoids, particularly on weight gain in patients with HIV-AIDS, depression, sleep disorders, anxiety disorders, psychosis, glaucoma, and Tourette syndrome.”

MORE: Even in Colorado Medical Marijuana Can Still Get You Fired

That puts patients who try medical marijuana products at a crossroads — in 23 states and Washington, DC, laws allow doctors to recommend cannabis products for their patients for medical reasons. But with little in the way of solid scientific evidence for which products works best, and in which doses, it’s up to the patients to adopt trial-and-error to figure out which, if any cannabinoids help to relieve their symptoms.

Adding to the confusion for patients, another study published in the same JAMA issue shows that medicinal marijuana food products, which include things such as candies, brownies and teas, aren’t often labeled correctly when it comes to their most active cannabis ingredient, and that the amounts are inconsistent. Ryan Vandrey, associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and his colleagues evaluated the contents of 75 products from 47 different brands purchased at marijuana dispensaries in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle, where medicinal marijuana use is legal. When they analyzed them for their content of THC and cannabinoids, the two most concentrated chemicals found in marijuana, they found wildly divergent amounts from what was noted on the products’ labels. Among them, only 17% were accurately labeled, with 23% of the products containing more of these compounds than listed, and 60% containing less than advertised. The labels noted that anywhere from 2 mg to 1000 mg of these agents were in the products, while the lab-based analysis revealed readings as low as 1mg to as high as 1237 mg. “When I have a health condition, and need to go buy my medicine, I want to make sure I know what I’m getting,” says Vandrey. “I want to make sure the dose I buy is the same today and the same the next time and the same the next time I buy it. I want reliability and accuracy so I don’t end up with problems.”

MORE: How Much Does Marijuana Impact Your Driving?

But medical marijuana products, he says, aren’t regulated by the same system that vets other pharmaceutical drugs. In fact, cannabinoids are not regulated at all, since the federal government still considers marijuana an illegal substance and therefore does not acknowledge that marijuana-based therapies exist at all. So far, 23 states have legislated such medicinal marijuana into legality, which means that legislation, and not scientific criteria, have “approved” these compounds for medical use. The results? “What we saw was that there cant’ be much if any consumer confidence within the cities we purchased and tested products,” says Vandrey.

For the larger medical marijuana distributors who see the emerging market as a profitable business, there’s the concern that profit motives may push them to under-deliver the amount of THC or cannabinoid they note on the label. And for the smaller outfits, it could be a matter of not knowing how to extract and measure the active ingredients from the cannabis plant and distribute it in a consistent way in a batch of tea or baked goods.

How can consumers know what they’re getting in a medical marijuana edible? They can do their homework and talk to other consumers and the dispensary about dosing of THC and cannabinoids, says Vandrey. Or they can try to test the products themselves, which some states offer in an effort to standardize and gain more control over these products. But ultimately, he says. “if states are going to supersede federal law and say we think there is medical benefit in marijuana, and we want it to be available to our residents, then it should also be the responsibility of the states to set up appropriate programs for regulating and overseeing the quality assurance and manufacturing standards for medications being sold.”

TIME Drugs

How Much Does Marijuana Impact Your Driving?

A new federal study has answers

A rigorous federal research study by the National Institute on Drug Abuse offers new data on the effects of marijuana on driving performance.

The exact impact of marijuana on driving ability is a controversial subject—and it’s become more important states continue to loosen their drug laws. And, while drunk driving is on the decline in the U.S., driving after having smoked or otherwise consumer marijuana has become more common. According to the most recent national roadside survey from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration of weekend nighttime drivers, 8.3 percent had some alcohol in their system and 12.6 percent tested positive for THC—up from 8.6 percent in 2007.

It is illegal in all states to drive under the influence of anything, but years of work went in to establishing the .08 breathe alcohol limit that exists in most states. The question is whether we can establish a similar threshold for pot.

To find out, the study recruited 18 occasional cannabis smokers, 13 of them men, between the ages 21 and 37. The participants took six 45-minute drives in a driving simulator—a 1996 Malibu sedan mounted in a 7.3 diameter dome—at the University of Iowa. Each drive tested a different combination of high or low concentration THC, alcohol, and placebos (to create a placebo, participants were given fruit juice with alcohol swabbed in the rim, topped of with 1ml alcohol, to mimic alcohol’s smell and taste).

The researchers looked at 250 parameters of driving ability, but this paper focused on three in particular: weaving within the lane, the number of times the car left the lane, and the speed of the weaving. While alcohol had an effect on the number of times the car left the lane and the speed of the weaving, marijuana did not. Marijuana did show an increase in weaving. Drivers with blood concentrations of 13.1 ug/L THC, the psychoactive ingredient in cannabis, showed increase weaving that was similar to those with a .08 breath alcohol concentration, the legal limit in most states. For reference, 13.1 ug/L THC is more than twice the 5 ug/L numeric limit in Washington and Colorado.

Dr. Marilyn Huestis, the principal investigator in the study, says it is important to note that the study looked at the concentration of THC in the driver’s system while they were driving. This is quite different from the concentration typically measured in a drugged driver out on the road, whose blood may not be checked until several hours after an arrest, allowing the THC level to drop considerably from the time they were driving.

Huestis says the researchers are looking at how to estimate how long it takes for THC concentrations in the blood to drop. Huestis believes that the 5 ug/L limit is not strict enough, particularly when you take into account those with low tolerance.

The study also found that pot and alcohol have more of an impact on driving when used together. Drivers who used both weaved within lanes, even if their blood THC and alcohol concentrations were below the threshold for impairment taken on their own. “We know cannabis is primarily found with a low dose of alcohol,” Huestis says. “Many young people have a couple beers and then cannabis.”

Smoking pot while drinking a little alcohol also increased THC’s absorption, making the high more intense. Similarly, THC delayed the peak of alcohol impairment, meaning that it tended to take longer for someone using both to feel drunk. Such data is important to educate the public about pot’s effects before they get on the road.

“I think this has added really good knowledge from a well-designed study to add to the current debate,” on marijuana’s effects on road safety, says Dr. Marilyn Huestis, the principal investigator in the study, which was conducted by researchers at the National Institute on Drug Abuse.

Read next: Here’s Why Marijuana Prices Appear to Be Dropping in Colorado

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TIME Marijuana

Here’s Why Marijuana Prices Appear to Be Dropping in Colorado

The cost of getting high is getting lower

After about 18 months of legal recreational marijuana sales in Colorado, the market keeps getting bigger. And now a new survey shows that pot prices in Colorado are actually declining, even as the number of customers increases.

Over the past year, the price for 1/8th of an ounce of recreational pot dropped as much as 40% in Colorado, according to a report from global brokerage services company Convergex, which recently surveyed several marijuana dispensaries in the Centennial state. Convergex reports that the average price for 1/8th of an ounce dropped from between $50 and $70 last June to between $30 and $45 now. The price of a full ounce is now between $250 and $300 after selling for roughly $300 to $400 a year ago.

One reason the cost of getting high is getting lower is because of increased competition from new dispensaries and the expansion of growing facilities. The limited number of dispensaries allowed to sell recreational marijuana during much of the first year of legal sales were able to keep prices relatively high, but prices have come down as more and more entrepreneurs get dispensary licenses and enter the market. At the same time, the report by Nicholas Colas, Convergex’s chief market strategist, notes that “it is also a natural result for any maturing industry as dispensaries try to find the market’s equilibrium price.”

The report also notes that, while the number of customers dispensaries tend to see from day to day has remained fairly constant over the past year, the amount each customer spends is on the decline, with the diminishing novelty of legal recreational pot possibly resulting in an increase in restraint among customers.

Regardless, as the number of dispensaries grows and customer flow remains steady, the size of Colorado’s recreational pot market continues to grow. The Colorado Department of Revenue reported $4.39 million in taxes from recreational marijuana sales for the month of April, which suggests a total of $43.9 million in sales for that month (based on the 10% sales tax), representing a 98% increase year-over-year. Convergex forecasts a total of $480 million in revenue for 2015, which would be more than a 50% increase over 2014.

Meanwhile, the state’s sales totals could receive a sizable boost on Sept. 16, when Colorado Governor John Hickenlooper will institute a one-day repeal of the 10% sales tax for recreational pot sales. After that one-day tax holiday, the sales tax will be permanently downsized to 8% in a move meant to further squeeze out the state’s black market for the drug, which is still illegal on the federal level.

TIME Marijuana

How an Ohio Ballot Measure Could Create a Marijuana Monopoly

Hundreds of thousands of signatures are being collected to put a measure on the November ballot to legalize recreational and medical marijuana in Ohio and give only 10 companies the right to grow the drug wholesale. Here professional signature gatherer Donnie Dawson holds petition booklets he was trying to fill on a recent afternoon in Columbus.
Liz Essley Whyte—Center for Public Integrity Hundreds of thousands of signatures are being collected to put a measure on the November ballot to legalize recreational and medical marijuana in Ohio and give only 10 companies the right to grow the drug wholesale. Here professional signature gatherer Donnie Dawson holds petition booklets he was trying to fill on a recent afternoon in Columbus.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Thousands of hastily scribbled signatures fill boxes in the basement of Ian James’ 7,800-square-foot restored Victorian home in the historic Franklin Park neighborhood. James needs these names to win a place on Ohio’s November ballot for a measure to legalize medical and recreational marijuana.

But the political consultant isn’t just gathering the signatures. He came up with the idea for the measure. And he recruited a lawyer to draft a constitutional amendment that would put Ohio’s future marijuana market in the hands of only 10 growers — an arrangement that critics are calling a monopoly.

Meanwhile, he plans to pay his own firm nearly $6 million to run the campaign.

Though James is an extreme example, he’s a member of a much larger and little-known class of professionals that form what could be called Ballot Measure Inc.: a powerful electoral-industrial complex funded by moneyed interests that belies the quaint notion of “citizen democracy” that such efforts are assumed to represent.

Active in the 26 states that have citizen-initiated ballot measures, the network of pollsters, direct mail specialists, lawyers, consultants, signature gatherers and voting data whizzes were paid at least $400 million for 85 statewide measures across the country in 2014, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis of state records. In presidential election years, state and local measures are a billion-dollar industry, said ballot initiative expert Dave McCuan.

The growth of the industry means that often only those with money can afford to get into the game. In some big states, such as California, where political consultant David Townsend estimates a controversial measure costs at least $25 million to pass, paid signature gatherers are now virtually a requirement to get on the ballot.

And this process of direct democracy sometimes appears to directly benefit only special interests: such as the Native American tribes who gave $107 million in 2008 to win measures expanding their slot machine operations in California; the agribusiness giant Monsanto, which gave $10.7 million last year to block labeling of genetically modified foods in Colorado and Oregon; or the plastics industry, which is currently fighting a plastic bag ban in California.

“The process has been captured by interests,” said McCuan, a Sonoma State University professor. “It’s been professionalized. It’s expensive.”

This has created a market filled with the promise of profits for those willing to work as mercenaries for a cause — or even come up with their own cause. James isn’t the only one known to have done so. The California lottery was famously created by signature gatherers in 1984, and a Nevada political consulting firm came up with and successfully campaigned for anti-union measures in multiple states, beginning in 2010.

“The honest and most easy response is: I am going to profit from this,” James told the Center for Public Integrity. “If people are upset about me making money, I don’t know what to say other than that that’s part of the American process. To win and make this kind of change for social justice, it does cost a lot of money.”

James’ initiative has drawn considerable heat. The measure would root the 10 marijuana growth sites to particular land parcels, which happen to be controlled by the mysterious companies funding the initiative. They would function as Ohio’s only wholesale suppliers of marijuana, selling to separate retail shops and nonprofit medical dispensaries.

James, a 49-year-old Ohio political veteran, has succeeded at this before. In 2009, he persuaded Ohioans to approve four casinos, also rooted to particular plots of land. For Responsible Ohio, as his marijuana effort is called, James wrangled together investors who are willing to bankroll a $20 million campaign, sink in an additional $20 million to buy the land and $300 million more to build facilities.

The investors have contributed through limited liability corporations with vague names such as Verdure GCE LLC and NG Green Investments LLC, offering few clues as to who’s behind them. Their hoped-for payoff? Guaranteed ownership of a wholesale marijuana market potentially worth more than $1 billion, according to a prospectus to investors outlining the Responsible Ohio campaign budget and obtained by the Center for Public Integrity.

And once the measure passes, James said he plans to open a consulting company helping launch marijuana retail stores.

Investing in pot

Just off Interstate 71 in Franklin County, Ohio, a 19-acre field on a two-lane road will become an oasis of legal pot if Responsible Ohio’s measure passes.

The field’s owner, Kenneth Campbell, said he signed a contract early this year to take the plot off the market and give an unknown buyer the exclusive right to purchase the field by the end of 2015. When Campbell’s name and plot of land started showing up in news reports on marijuana legalization, he was as surprised as anyone.

“People saw my name,” Campbell said. “They said, ‘Hey Ken, you’re growing some pot!’ And I said, ‘I am?’ ”

Around the state, at least four other sections of land were reserved in the same way — to LLCs that paid for the exclusive right to buy the land by the end of the year or early into 2016. All 10 land parcels will be written into the state constitution should Responsible Ohio get its way.

The Responsible Ohio campaign has trumpeted some of the investors, including minor celebrities such as Nick Lachey, former 98 Degrees boy-bander and ex-husband of singer Jessica Simpson; fashion designer Nanette Lepore; and Arizona Cardinals defensive end Frostee Rucker. Others — such as Chicago investor Ben Kovler and Dayton pain specialist Dr. Suresh Gupta — can only be found after digging through documents. These investors declined or did not respond to requests for comment for this story. James said he’s not an investor.

Responsible Ohio investor Alan Mooney, a financier who specializes in off-shore corporations, said the limited set of investors would ensure Ohio’s marijuana market has the capital to get off the ground.

“I don’t want to throw open the doors like they did in California,” he said. “I know a lot of the street people, the hippies and stoners would love that. This has got be professional business people.”

The pre-arranged, limited list of investors doesn’t sit well with some Ohioans. Words such as “monopoly,” “cartel” and “oligopoly” appear frequently in critics’ speeches and newspaper columns.

Responding to such concerns, some state legislators are working on a counter ballot measure that would block initiatives benefiting only a small group. As lawmakers, they can refer an item to the ballot without gathering signatures.

Major pro-legalization groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance also have distanced themselves from the initiative, despite supporting legalization measures in other states including Colorado, where the number of pot cultivators was not capped.

And some longtime supporters of marijuana in Ohio are actively opposing Responsible Ohio, alongside anti-drug activists.

“This is egregious to me on many levels,” said Marcie Seidel, an anti-drug activist who opposes all forms of legalization and heads Ohio’s Drug Free Action Alliance. “This is basically wealthy individuals, the 1 percent that we always hear about, that are wanting and asking us as Ohio citizens to guarantee in the constitution that they are going to make millions and millions more dollars so they can become even more wealthy.”

Behind the money

It’s not uncommon in the U.S. for moneyed interests who will benefit financially from the outcome of ballot measures to back their campaigns or opposition movements. Corporations and business trade groups gave more than three-quarters of the $266 million contributed by top donors to ballot measure groups in 2014, according to a Center for Public Integrity analysis published earlier this year.

For example, in Colorado, competing casinos gave more than $36 million in a fight over a 2014 measure to expand gaming at racetracks.

And Monsanto and other food-company allies raised $36 million to successfully block measures last year to label genetically modified foods in Colorado and Oregon, while pro-labeling groups fueled by money from natural foods businesses raised $7.5 million in the two states.

Ballot measures were the darling of early 20th century progressives, who saw them as a way to circumnavigate corrupt legislatures. South Dakota became the first state to add initiatives and referenda to its constitution in 1898, borrowing from the ideas behind robust ballot measure politicking in Switzerland. By 1918, 24 states and many more cities had adopted ballot measures, according to the University of Southern California’s Initiative and Referendum Institute.

But the provisions played a minor role in American political life until 1978 when Proposition 13, California’s anti-tax initiative, heralded the “taxpayer revolt” and new popularity for ballot measures. Now, measures promoted with expensive TV ad campaigns often bankrolled by wealthy interests or activist groups are a way of life in California, where the ballot measure is most popular, followed closely by several other western states, such as Oregon, Washington and Arizona. Ohio typically sees one or two statewide measures per year.

Moneyed interests don’t always win ballot measure fights, of course. In 2010, voters rejected California’s Proposition 16 that would have made it harder for municipalities to create their own power companies, despite $46 million spent by Pacific Gas & Electric in support, and less than $100,000 spent by opponents. But if big business is going to win, it needs help to create the network that a true grassroots movement would have at the ready. That’s where the pros come in.

‘Not a process for amateurs’

At Responsible Ohio’s headquarters in James’ Victorian home, July 1 looms. That’s the day the campaign must turn in its signatures to the secretary of state — at least 305,591 to get the measure on the ballot. The team has already surpassed that number, but James is hoping to obtain 800,000 signatures and register thousands of new voters — then remind them all to go to the polls in November.

To do this, James has assembled a cadre of professionals. The prospectus for potential Responsible Ohio investors outlines a preliminary $20 million budget for the campaign: $5.6 million for signature gathering, canvassing and operations, paid to James’ firm; $702,000 for lawyers and bookkeepers; $278,000 for polling; $350,000 for public relations; $1.5 million for data analysis by veterans of Barack Obama’s two presidential campaigns; $4 million for direct mail and a vote-by-mail program; $7.1 million for TV and radio advertising; and $440,000 for lobbying.

In Ohio, this is what it takes to run a ballot measure campaign: more than 500 people working full-time, and election pros running the whole show.

“This is a business,” James said. “What we’re doing in changing the constitution to legalize marijuana will lead to more than 10,000 people working in the state, billions of dollars being generated in new revenue. That money is also going to flow into local communities. But no one creates an industry of that magnitude without being paid for it.”

James has worked on eight state and local ballot measures in Ohio. He got his taste for politics as a kid going to union meetings with his mother, a teacher. Starting in high school, he volunteered or worked on about a dozen candidate campaigns, he said, and later took jobs in the Ohio statehouse and as a lobbyist for the late entertainer and casino mogul Merv Griffin. He focuses now on ballot measures and said he works 80 hours a week on Responsible Ohio’s campaign.

Many other politicos also work exclusively on ballot measures for hefty price tags. Barry Fadem, a California-based attorney, has spent his three-decade career writing ballot measure language. His clients typically need to spend $100,000 even before the measure is filed with the state, he said, just to conduct opinion polls, hire consultants to start organizing the campaign and pay him to craft the legalese.

“The initiative process is just not a process for amateurs,” Fadem said. “It’s really not. Because it’s so hard to win.”

Some industry members claim only to work for causes they care about, but most combine work that supports their political principles with work that lines their pocketbooks, taking on gambling, land-use or other types of measures that pay well.

But industry members said they aren’t getting rich. Michael Arno leads a major signature gathering company, Arno Petition Consultants, that has been paid more than $9.5 million since 2010, according to data from the Lucy Burns Institute and state records.

“If I had a nickel for every nickel people thought I’d had, I’d be retired by now,” he said. “We go through long stretches we don’t have any work.Bottom of Form

Foot soldiers

With clipboards and pens in hand, Donnie Dawson stood on the sidewalk outside the Franklin County Government Center on a recent afternoon, calling to people shuffling into the revolving doors to pay speeding tickets and lawyers leaving to catch a smoke break.

“Legalize marijuana, bro?” he called out to a man in bright red pants.

“I don’t smoke,” the man said as he kept walking. “I sell.”

The man had a point: His current illegal business would be doomed under Responsible Ohio’s initiative, because only the 10 for-profit companies that are also funding the campaign would be allowed to grow and sell pot wholesale, though others could set up retail shops.

But voters may not know that from listening to Dawson try to collect their signatures. “Basically the 10 companies are for the nonprofit medical marijuana, for research for the medical marijuana,” said Dawson when asked what he tells potential signers curious about the alleged monopoly. “They’re there to do the research and invent different strands of weed to help.”

That leaves out a piece of the picture. Though it’s true the 10 wholesalers would supply nonprofit medical dispensaries, the wholesalers are presently organized as for-profit LLCs and would also supply for-profit retailers. “While maybe not artful, it is accurate,” James said of Dawson’s words.

A stream of Ohioans signed Dawson’s petition. None of them read the entire 24-page measure; many of them didn’t seem bothered by the wealthy investors behind it.

“It goes hand in hand. It’s kind of like Philip Morris and cigarette companies,” said 36-year-old warehouse employee Jorrel Carse, who also said he didn’t know much about the petition when he signed it. “It’s all just a part of business.”

Josh Sword, a construction worker and self-described “street pharmacist,” said he has grown marijuana in the past and would grow it again if Responsible Ohio’s measure passed.

Ohio’s potential marijuana market even inspired a copycat measure. But the Better for Ohio group seeks to authorize 40 growth facilities instead of just 10. The right to operate those sites would go to owners of certain $100 bills, with their serial numbers listed in the ballot measure. Better for Ohio said it would assign ownership of the bills at a later date.

The backers of the measure aren’t joking — they hired Arno’s California-based firm to gather signatures but will be aiming for the 2016 ballot after running out of money to pay Arno to qualify this year.

Massive signature drives, though fraught with claims of fraud and deception over the years, remain the hallmark of the initiative process. Though some measures can still rely on volunteers for the labor-intensive job, at least $20 million was paid to 21 firms gathering signatures for the 2014 ballot, according to data from the Lucy Burns Institute and state records.

But Dawson, a professional signature gatherer, isn’t making millions. The 42-year-old father of five did not say how much he makes, but James said signature gatherers are paid a base rate of $9.50 per hour, with the chance to earn more if they bring in many valid signatures.

Voices unheard

Responsible Ohio is attracting a motley crew of opponents, from anti-drug activists to pro-pot voters hoping to get other, less restrictive versions of marijuana legalization on the ballot.

Mary Smith, a marijuana activist and the former owner of what she called a “run-of-the-mill hippie department store” in Toledo, said she isn’t backing it because she doubts Responsible Ohio’s wealthy investors have genuine empathy for medical marijuana patients.

“This is completely about greed,” she said.

But so far opponents are without a broad coalition and have yet to muster significant funding to go up against the $20 million campaign from Responsible Ohio. Anti-drug activist Seidel said she thinks some sort of opposition group will form but doesn’t know where the money will come from.

Vermilion resident Aaron Weaver and about 20 other pro-pot critics of Responsible Ohio are trying to put up a fight. In April, they formed a new nonprofit, Citizens Against Responsible Ohio.

So far the group exists as a website, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. And they are paying out of their own pockets to promote Facebook posts criticizing the measure. Encouraged solely by a tweet from comedian Drew Carey, an Ohio native who voiced skepticism about Responsible Ohio’s plan, Weaver drafted a letter asking him for money. “With your assistance, we can turn the tide and put a stop to these well-polished thugs in their tracks,” Weaver’s letter reads.

In an initiative process intended to be the voice of the people, the people are struggling to find the money to get their voices heard, while moneyed interests can afford to pay top dollar for the ballot professionals. It’s an irony not lost on the professionals themselves.

“To be quite honest, it’s a lucrative business, but there are certainly questions we all have about the efficiency, and what’s good for democracy and what’s not,” said Paul Maslin, a pollster who has worked on initiatives for 20 years. “Because let’s face it: Sometimes ballot measures can be the purview of special interest groups that may not be linked up with the public interest.”

Others are unmoved, even upon hearing that Ian James plans to pay his own firm $5.6 million to promote the idea he created.

“It’s America,” said David Bruno, an Akron-based consultant who has helped James attract investors. “Good for him. And for the people that want to criticize that, it’s a shame they didn’t try to do it first.”

But for Weaver, Responsible Ohio would crush his version of the American dream: opening a marijuana farm that would double as his business and a retirement plan for his parents if legalization ever came to Ohio.

“It’s an absolutely unfair fight,” the 28-year-old administrative assistant said. “It’s a perversion of our process in the state of Ohio and I think any state, really. I mean putting your business plan into the constitution of a state? That’s unheard of. That’s ridiculous.”

Data reporter Ben Wieder contributed to this story.

This story is from The Center for Public Integrity, a nonprofit, nonpartisan investigative media organization in Washington, D.C. Read more of its investigations on the influence of money in politics or follow it on Twitter.

TIME Drugs

Even in Colorado Medical Marijuana Can Still Get You Fired

Brandon Coats, Michael Evans
Ed Andrieski—AP Brandon Coats is pictured with his attorney, Michael Evans, after a Colorado Court of Appeals ruling in Denver on April 25, 2013.

The state supreme court found that Dish Network was allowed to fire a quadriplegic employee although Colorado law permits medical pot

For the fifth time in seven years, a state high court has ruled that employers have the right to fire employees who use medical marijuana.

In a decision released today, the Colorado Supreme Court found that Dish Network, the national satellite TV provider, did not act illegally when it fired Brandon Coats, a Denver-area call center rep, in 2010 after Coats tested positive for marijuana. Although Colorado law permits the use of medical marijuana, the court ruled that Dish was within its rights because pot remains illegal under federal law.

Although the case is limited to Colorado, the court’s decision has national ramifications. Previous cases in California, Montana, Oregon, and Washington all swung for the employer, but the Colorado case was seen as the best chance for a ruling in favor of medical marijuana patients–and not just because of the state’s embrace of medical and recreational pot.

For one, Coats was a particularly sympathetic plaintiff. The 35-year-old has been quadriplegic since a car accident at age 16 and has been considered a model employee since being hired by Dish in 2007. In 2009, Coats obtained a state-issued license and began using medical marijuana at night, after work. “I take it at home every night,” he said in an interview last year. “It helps me sleep. I wake up with less stiffness, and it quiets my spasms all through the next day.” By sleeping off the psychoactive effects, he could report to work clear-headed the next day while the antispasmodic effects of the drug continued to calm his system. In 2010, Coats was selected for a random drug test. He came up positive for marijuana–as he told his boss he would–and was fired soon after for violating Dish’s anti-drug policy.

Coats and his lawyer, Michael Evans, contested the firing in state court. Similar marijuana patients in other states had sued–and lost–by citing the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA), or the state’s medical marijuana statute. Colorado is one of 23 states and the District of Columbia that allow medical pot. These laws allow a patient to cite medicinal use as a legal defense against criminal marijuana charges, a practice known as “affirmative defense.” But State courts have declined to expand the statutes to include immunity from firing. In fact Colorado’s medical marijuana law, like those in many states, holds that employers are not required “to accommodate the medical use of marijuana in any work place.”

The odds were against Coats. So his lawyer tried a novel approach. Colorado has a “lawful activity” statute that prohibits employers from discriminating against employees for engaging in legal off-duty conduct. Coats’ marijuana use, Evans argued, was exactly that: legal and off duty. Dish replied that Coats’ medical pot, though consumed off-duty, was nevertheless active on-duty. “Coats freely admits that his [medical marijuana use] affected him while at work, even claiming that it altered his job performance,” the company said.

In effect, a drug Coats said helped him perform better at work was the reason he was fired.

This is the kind of Alice in Wonderland logic born of a circumstance in which marijuana is simultaneously a state-legal medicine and a federally illegal drug. (Because Coats’ firing happened in 2010, Colorado’s 2012 legalization of recreational pot had no bearing on the case.) But Dish’s argument wasn’t as crazy as it might sound. Steroids improve a baseball slugger’s job performance. Cocaine can increase a factory worker’s short-term productivity. To maintain a drug-free workplace (or at least a federally illegal drug-free workplace), Dish was willing to sacrifice the career of one employee–even one as sympathetic as Brandon Coats.

In the end, Coats’ case, like those before his, couldn’t overcome the inexorable power of federal law. Colorado’s “lawful activity” statute, the state high court ruled, did not extend its protections to activities considered illegal under federal law. In a released statement, Dish Network officials said they were pleased with the decision: “As a national employer, Dish remains committed to a drug-free workplace and compliance with federal law.”

The ruling, said Evans, means that “most employees who work in a state with the world’s most powerful medical marijuana laws will have to choose between using medical marijuana and work.”

Coats described himself as “very disappointed” by the decision. “If we’re making marijuana legal for medical purposes we need to address issues that come along with it,” he said.

The latest ruling means that those issues won’t be solved at the state level anytime soon. The barrier is clear: Little will change unless the federal government evolves its own position on marijuana.

Barcott is a journalist who has contributed to the New York Times, National Geographic and other publications. His new book “Weed the People, the Future of Legal Marijuana in America,” from TIME Books, is now available wherever books are sold, including Amazon.com, Barnes & Noble and Indiebound.

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