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What's In Marijuana Ballot Issue For Communities?

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Ohioans will vote on an issue this fall that could legalize marijuana growth, sale and use in Ohio. ResponsibleOhio is a group of investors pushing the plan. In the first of a five part series on Issue 3, Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles takes a look at the plan and what is in it for communities.  

Issue 3 would do more than just make marijuana legal in Ohio. It would allow ten pre-selected growing sites owned by investors who are paying for this campaign.  It would allow retail sales and regulation of marijuana. And it would allow Ohioans to grow up to four pot plants at home, if they’d get a permit from the state first. The executive director of ResponsibleOhio, Ian James, says his group hired an outside firm to run numbers to see what passage of the proposed constitutional amendment would do for Ohio’s economy. James says it would put millions of dollars in tax revenue into local government coffers each year.

“It would generate 554 million dollars each year and we actually believe that is conservative,” James says. 

And when it comes to total economic impact - like jobs created and businesses started - he says the number is about two billion dollars.

“Let’s finally get to the point of creating jobs from this new industry, let’s tax this marijuana, let’s use this marijuana to fund our safety services, to fund construction and repair of bridges and deal with the infrastructure that is collapsing around us in our communities. Let’s fill pot holes with pot money,” James says.

All of this talk about new tax dollars for local governments is welcome news for some local leaders such as Pete Gerkin, a Lucas County Commissioner.  He says his county stands to get $17 million a year in tax revenue if Issue 3 passes.

“That can then be used for economic development, social programming and road development. The breakdown in Lucas County is about $7 million to the county itself, about $7 million to the city of Toledo, our largest city in the county and then about another million to next smaller municipalities,” Gerken says.

Gerken says the county money can be used to build a new jail because the current one is in such bad shape that it is under a federal court order to relieve overcrowding. He says it’s almost the amount that his county lost since 2010 through state cuts to local government funds.  But those who oppose Issue 3 question those projections.  Curt Steiner is running an opposition campaign called Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies. He says local officials he’s talking to are skeptical.

“People we are talking to don’t believe it or think they are going to get that kind of money. People think there’s always a shell game associated with those kind of things,” Steiner says.

Steiner’s coalition says the marijuana stress could actually end up hurting other businesses since Issue 3 would allow for as many as 1,159 retail marijuana stores statewide. And he adds that’s more locations than Starbucks or McDonalds, and nearly three times the number of state liquor stores. Steiner says that could make it more expensive for businesses to operate in Ohio. It’s up to local communities to decide whether to allow the stores. A reporter for Colorado Public Radio, Ben Markus, has followed the growth of the pot industry there since 1999 when the state legalized pot only for medicinal use. And he’s seen an explosion of growth in Denver, where he lives, since a recreational marijuana proposal was passed in 2012. He says there are now 200 stores in Denver.

“imagine you are a Jamba Juice coming into Denver. You are competing with this huge industry that is taking up every available storefront in the city so it does have an impact. It raises rates. It raises rates for landlords who own retail spaces. It raises rates for landlords who own warehouse spaces. It helps the construction industry if all of a sudden you have to build a bunch of lights and plant beds to grow your marijuana so clearly it is having an impact,” Markus says.

But, then again, Markus says Denver’s economy was on the upswing before the widespread marijuana legalization so he says it’s hard to tell the true impact. He says Colorado has pulled in $50 million in state tax revenue so far this year. When told about the projection tax revenue in Ohio would be $554 million when it is fully up and running in 2020, Markus laughs a little.

“If Colorado doesn’t have those numbers now, then what makes you think your state is going to have them,” Marcus asks.

A recent Quinnipiac study shows of the Ohioans who support legalized marijuana in general, more than 80% say they would never use it. If that is close to being accurate, it raises questions about the projected revenue.

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