Marijuana, Kids, And Jobs

In a few weeks Ohioans will vote on Issue 3, a ballot initiative that would allow people 21 and over to use marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes and permit marijuana to be grown in designated locations in the state.

When Kish and I were in a waiting area yesterday, we saw two of the commercials about Issue 3 — one pro, one con — back to back.  And the themes of the commercials were familiar to anyone who has ever voted on a ballot issue:  jobs and kids.  The pro-Issue 3 commercial emphasized that passing Issue 3 and allowing legalized marijuana sales would create jobs, and one of the bullet points for the anti-Issue 3 ad was that Issue 3 would allow the sale of marijuana-infused candy, which could end up in the hands of kids.

We’ve seen similar approaches in prior  campaigns.  The initiative to legalize casinos in Ohio, which passed, was all about jobs.  The Ohio Lottery initiative, which passed, was all about devoting a share of lottery proceeds to education . . . and kids.  It’s as if the campaign ad consultants sit around, thinking of every potential job-related or kid-related theme, no matter the issue being presented, because they just can’t resist sounding those tried and true messages.

Some complex issues are presented by the marijuana legalization initiative — issues like whether marijuana does have medical benefits under certain circumstances, whether legalization has caused an increase, or decrease, in crime or car accidents in states where marijuana has been legalized, and whether Issue 3 in fact creates a legalized monopoly, among others.  The issues presented by Issue 3 go a lot deeper than whether a few thousand jobs will be created in a state with millions of residents, or whether marijuana-laced lollipops will find their way into the stream of commerce.  But jobs and kids are what the TV commercials talk about.

Jobs on one side, kids on the other.  Maybe that’s why the most recent polls on Issue 3 show that Ohioans are evenly divided on the issue.

From Craftsmen To Casino Workers

Obviously, I am disappointed in the fact that Ohio voters approved Issue 3, which will result in the construction of full-scale casinos in Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Toledo.  What is really sad about the passage of Issue 3, however, is what it says more generally about The Buckeye State in particular and The American Dream in general.

There is no doubt that that principal reason that Ohio voters backed Issue 3 — after having repeatedly rejected statewide casino gambling initiatives in the very recent past — is that it promised to create 34,000 jobs.  What does it say about our state that the promise of a few thousand jobs as casino workers is enough to cause voters to reverse their longstanding opposition to gambling and welcome casinos to some of our major cities?  I think it clearly speaks of reduced expectations, reduced hopes, and reduced dreams.

Ohio used to be a state that was chock full of good jobs for all.  In the Akron area where I grew up, thousands of citizens were successful blue collar workers in the rubber and auto industries.  They had union jobs that allowed them to buy nice homes, take nice vacations, grill out on weekends, and support the Browns and Indians.  They lived on the same streets as carpenters, shoe repairmen, dentists, lawyers, and car dealers.  Those American workers made tires, furniture, televisions, textile products, glass, and other actual tangible objects that were bought and sold.  They were proud of their jobs, proud of their state, and proud of their country.  All of them hoped and expected that their children would have even better jobs and better lives.

Most of the manufacturing jobs that I remember from my youth have long since left our state.  We can argue about why they are gone — whether it was overly greedy management or overly greedy unions, poor business planning or poor business practices, workers compensation awards that were too generous or tax schemes that were too aggressive, environmental regulation, or general business costs that simply were too high to compete with what businesses will pay in Mexico or China — but there is no dispute that they are gone.  And, as a result, we have in Ohio a population of people who are desperate for a job, any job — even if it is a job wearing a bow tie and a fake smile as you deal cards  to surly, drunken gamblers at a blackjack table at 2 a.m.

Does anyone believe that these desperate people dream The American Dream anymore?  That is what I find so deeply saddening about the passage of Issue 3.  Even sadder, I doubt that the Ohioans who sacrificed their principles and swallowed their misgivings and succumbed to the siren’s song of casino gambling are very much different from millions of desperate Americans in every other state in the union.

Issue 3 Passes

Ohio voters have spoken and (unfortunately) have approved Issue 3 with a 53 percent majority.  Interestingly, voters in two of the casino locations — Cleveland and Cincinnati — voted heavily in favor of the casinos, whereas voters in the Columbus area, where a third casino would be built, rejected the measure.

As seems always to be the case these days, however, the Issue 3 story is not over.  State leaders and other Ohio casino opponents now will consider whether to challenge the constitutional amendment in court, or try to regulate the process so that the casinos are put out to bid, the tax structure for the casinos are modified to be more advantageous to the state, or other changes get made.  If the linked article is any indication, there may we be another casino-related constitutional amendment on the ballot in the next state-wide election.  (In the meantime, we will, thankfully, finally get a break from Mary Ellen Withrow, the Fraternal Order of Police, and the other incessant pro-Issue 3 TV and radio commercials that have dominated the Ohio airwaves for weeks.)

I can understand why many Ohio voters have favored the casino issue.  The state is in the grips of a recession, and casino advocates sold the measure as one that would create thousands of jobs and raise hundreds of millions in tax revenue.  If the casinos do, in fact, get built, I hope that people pay very close attention to whether the casinos actually deliver everything they have promised and hold them to account.  Frankly, I am skeptical of the promises.

Get Out And Vote!

Election Day has come again. I’ll be stopping at my polling place on my way to work. It is in a church on Route 62, and there I will exercise my franchise with respect to a number of local races and statewide ballot issues.

In encourage everyone to get out and vote. It always makes me feel good – and this year I will feel especially good voting against Issue 3. We don’t need or want casino gambling in Ohio! We don’t need to join Indiana and Michigan and West Virginia in a race to the bottom, and we shouldn’t muck up the Ohio Constitution with what is, in reality, special interest legislation unworthy of being memorialized in our state’s most fundamental governing document.

More No On Issue 3

I’m happy to see that some Columbus community development organizations have come out against Issue 3.  Although organizations in Cleveland, Cincinnati, and Toledo have endorsed the proposal, Columbus groups have criticized Issue 3 — correctly, I think — as an obvious effort to line the pockets of special interests and to preclude state or local regulation of casinos by establishing them through a constitutional amendment.  I hope Columbus voters are paying attention.

Constitutions And Casinos

I’ve previously noted my opposition to Issue 3, which would amend the Ohio Constitution to allow casinos to be built in four Ohio cities. One reason for my opposition is that I think the Ohio Constitution should be a constitution, not a statute or a detailed laundry list.  In my view, constitutions should establish broad approaches, goals, aspirations, and prohibitions, and leave the minutiae to be filled in by future legislatures and executives.  The federal Constitution is a good example.  Constitutional provisions like the Supremacy Clause and the Commerce Clause leave lots of room for interpretation.  A good constitution provides a framework that describes how the process of government should work, yet is flexible enough to deal with changing technologies and concepts.  It is the difference between a document that says that the legislature has the power to levy taxes and one that says that all horses used for commercial purposes will be taxed at one ha’penny per biennium.  The former approach has helped to guide more than 200 years of constitutional democracy; the latter would need to be amended repeatedly. 

If you read the text of Issue 3 — and it is available, in PDF format, on the website of the Ohio Ballot Board under the heading Issue 3 — you will see that it is inconsistent with the foregoing notion of what a constitution should be.  Indeed, Issue 3 is extraordinarily detailed.  It is more than five pages long.  It specifies which taxes can be levied on the casinos, at what percentage, and how the funds generated by those taxes will be distributed.  It states the license fee to be charged and how the proceeds of the license fee are to be used.  It specifies that one (and one) casino may be created in each of Cleveland, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Toledo, and it even specifies the particular properties, identified by their individual tax parcel numbers, on which the four casinos may be developed.

In my view, therefore, Issue 3 is not a constitutional amendment.  A real constitutional amendment on the topic might state, for example, that casino gambling is legal in Ohio and is subject to regulation and taxation by the General Assembly, with the proceeds of such taxes and regulations being distributed as directed by the General Assembly.  Issue 3, in contrast, is legislation that is being offered as a constitutional amendment only because, if it is incorporated into the Ohio Constitution, it could not be overridden by the Ohio General Assembly and could only be modified by another constitutional amendment.

I don’t think casino gambling is a good idea as a matter of social policy, but I also am opposed to junking up the Ohio Constitution with a bunch of detailed regulatory language that could soon be outdated and anachronistic.  I’m against Issue 3 for that reason as well.

Voting No On Issue 3

It’s about a month before the election, and already we are being bombarded with commercials urging us to vote for Issue 3, which would allow “full-service” casinos to be established in Columbus and three other Ohio cities.  For weeks, we’ve seen the Fraternal Order of Police arguing in favor of Issue 3, and most recently the pro-Issue 3 ads have featured former Ohio State Treasurer Mary Ellen Withrow, who reassures us that the casinos will, in fact, pay their taxes, and two women who are riding us a bus to a casino in another state and lamenting that they can’t gamble closer to home.  So far, I don’t think I’ve seen a single ad against Issue 3.  Obviously, the moneyed interests strongly favor casino gambling in Ohio.

Nevertheless, I’m pretty sure I’m going to vote against Issue 3.  The proponents of the Issue say it will create 34,000 jobs connected with construction and then operation of the casinos and keep $1 billion in Ohio that Ohio citizens would otherwise gamble away in Indiana or West Virginia or Detroit.  I don’t know whether those statistics are reasonable or valid, and I don’t care.  I just think casinos are bad for communities, and I don’t want one in Columbus.  I’ve been to Detroit, where casino gambling was supposed to revitalize downtown, and I don’t think it has worked.  In fact, I think the contrary is true.  The “Greektown” section of Detroit is pretty grim — a few casinos in an otherwise blighted area that doesn’t seem safe to walk around.  Why would we want that in Columbus?

I don’t buy the “jobs at any cost” arguments.  Other forms of vice — such as prostitution, opium dens, or legalized underage drinking — no doubt also would produce “jobs” and keep money in Ohio, or maybe even attract “vice tourists” from other states.  The fact that other states are willing to slip into sleaze doesn’t mean Ohio needs to follow suit just to keep a few bucks in the state treasury.  Casino gambling seems to bring with it crime, prostitution, guns, theft, drunkenness, and other generally inappropriate conduct.  If 34,000 jobs and $1 billion in lost revenue is the price to pay for avoiding having that unsavory atmosphere in my home town, I am perfectly willing to pay it.

In Ohio we have had statewide initiatives on casino gambling repeatedly in recent years.  Last year a bruising campaign produced a strong rejection of casino gambling at the ballot box, and yet it is back on the ballot, again, this year.  It seems unfair to allow moneyed interests to put the same issue on the ballot over and over again, until their less well-heeled opponents have exhausted their resources and the proposition finally is approved after repeated defeats.  In my mind, that is just another reason to vote against Issue 3.