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Friday, October 16, 2015

What Type of Irrational Are Ohioans?

marijuana leaf

In a few weeks, Ohio will vote on not one, but two, constitutional amendments on marijuana legalization. The first, sponsored by a group of private citizens, would legalize recreational and medical marijuana. The second, sponsored by the state legislature, would constitutionally bar the first. The reason these amendments are brought to the attention of the gentle reader is not to comment on the drug war—the views of the author on which are predictable and better stated by others—but rather a few curious features.

The first of these is that the legalization amendment would also create a legal marijuana cartel. Remarkably, the owners of this cartel just so happen to be exactly the same civic-minded group as the one which sponsored the amendment! Perhaps this is not quite as outrageous as it seems at first glance, for it is understandable that those who invest large sums of money into getting an amendment on the ballot would like to see some of their expenses reimbursed. But would it not have been better to slap on a clause that obligated the legislature to pay specified funds to the sponsors, rather than screwing up the newly legalized market? Or, if that would fail due to a single-subject rule for constitutional amendments, perhaps it should just be a general rule that sponsors of successful amendments have their stated expenses reimbursed. Or, even better, skip the dead-weight loss of signature gathering, and allow anybody who posts a bond sufficient to pay for the election to propose any amendment they want.

The second is that both the legalization amendment and its bar appear to enjoy majority support. This is not an issue of a handful of confused people pushing both amendments over the majority line. No fewer than 56% of those polled who indicated that they would vote for the bar amendment state that they would also vote for the legalization amendment. One is unsure whether this is an example of Ilya Somin’s Rationally Ignorant Voter, Bryan Caplan’s Rationally Irrational Voter or Steven Landsburg’s Not Rationally Predictable Voter .The latter was previously touched upon here.

Finally, there is a fascinating legal question here. Each of the constitutional amendments includes specific language nullifying the other. If, as currently appears likely, both amendments pass, what happens to the Ohio constitution? Does it collapse into itself in some realization of Epimenides’s or Russell’s paradox? There is no way to decide on precedence for the usual last-in-time rule for statutory conflicts only works because legislatures pass statutes strictly sequentially. Here both amendments would have been enacted in the same instant. Are there any precedents on this?