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A referendum on the ballot this November could make Ohio the fifth state to legalize recreational and medical marijuana. The proposal is drawing some unusual opposition. It's coming from a community that generally supports legalizing marijuana. Lewis Wallace of member station WYSO in Yellow Springs, Ohio, reports.
LEWIS WALLACE, BYLINE: Many would consider Yellow Springs ground zero for likely supporters of legalizing weed. It's a small college town with more than one head shop and a lot of tie-dye and hemp. But the first person I talked to here, 25-year-old Samantha Van Ness, says while she's all for legalizing marijuana, she's dead-set against the amendment that will be on the ballot.
SAMANTHA VAN NESS: I would rather take the minor misdemeanor fine than let somebody have such a massive monopoly in my state.
WALLACE: And that's the word lots of liberals and old hippies here don't like - monopoly. Many people who generally support legalization have a problem with the group ResponsibleOhio that's pushing this initiative because it specifies just 10 locations in the state where growing pot would be allowed, and 10 groups of investors already have dibs on those sites. These same investors are sinking $20 million into the campaign, so they're in essence paying to try to amend the state constitution to grant themselves pot-growing rights. But ResponsibleOhio director, Ian James, says there's a reason for this structure.
IAN JAMES: There are other folks that say, I think we should treat marijuana like lettuce and tomatoes. Well, lettuce and tomatoes don't impair you. Marijuana does.
WALLACE: James says limiting the proposal to 10 sites makes it easier to regulate and monitor. And a state-run control board will be able to increase that number later on. And he says the big money allows them to run a big campaign.
JAMES: We are Ohio folks. You know, we're not a blue state. We're not a red state. We're very purple, battleground, middle-of-the-road state, and that requires that you have a middle-of-the-road approach that doesn't always sit well with the right, and it doesn't always sit well with the left.
WALLACE: The investors are a notable group. It includes former NBA star Oscar Robertson, NFL player Frostee Rucker, Nick Lachey from the boy band 98 Degrees and two Cincinnati-based relatives of the late President William H. Taft. Sri Kavuru with Ohioans to End Prohibition says he agrees that it's time to legalize marijuana but thinks this is the wrong approach.
SRI KAVURU: I don't think auctioning off the Ohio Constitution is the only way to do that.
WALLACE: So his group - again, would-be supporters - is trying to pass a different amendment next year that would create a free market for growers. And pot opponents likely won't embrace either move. Republican secretary of state Jon Husted included the word monopoly in the issue title that's supposed to go on the ballot this fall.
JON HUSTED: You could call it a duopoly, an oligopoly or a cartel, which are other words that we could've chosen, but we figured that monopoly was the most easily understandable.
WALLACE: The group ResponsibleOhio has taken that wording to court. Ian James argues it's an unfair characterization.
JAMES: It is certainly not a monopoly when thousands of Ohioans will be able to own and operate their own retail stores, their own testing facilities, their own manufacturing facilities.
WALLACE: He says if it passes, the amendment will create 10,000-plus jobs and more than a half a billion a year in tax revenue for the state. Samantha Van Ness, the young pot supporter who's against the amendment, says she'd love to see the tax revenue from a thriving weed business too, but...
VAN NESS: Not at the cost of putting that squarely into a few pockets. That's just as bad as it is right now where the money's already in a few people's pockets.
WALLACE: The big money in this campaign is already showing up. The TV ads have started, and they even have a mascot - Buddie, a muscular green guy who's touring college campuses in a bus. For NPR News, I'm Lewis Wallace in Yellow Springs.
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