On the surface, Ian James sounds like any other idealistic marijuana advocate: He’s critical of the war on drugs, he touts the economic and tax benefits of legalization and uses the familiar rebuttal against the “think of the children!” argument by pointing out that dealers are currently selling pot to kids and dispensaries will be carding customers. But James, the man behind this Tuesday’s ballot measure to legalize marijuana in Ohio, is motivated by more than his political convictions.
James’ controversial statewide ballot initiative, known as Issue 3, is designed to line the pockets of the investors he gathered to bankroll it—a brazen example of pay-to-play politics according to critics. But James is also unlike anyone in legalization who’s come before him. He’s the CEO of The Strategy Network, a political consultant group specializing in ballot measures. Unlike the marijuana activist color guard typically responsible for passing the country’s prior legalization initiatives, James is a 30-year political operative who cut his teeth working for Ohio Gov. Ted Strickland, not exactly an idealistic drug policy reformer.