Ohio Voters Reject Marijuana Legalization Referendum

Voters in Ohio rejected a measure to legalize marijuana across the state, giving hope to anti-legalization advocates that recent polling which suggests a growing tolerance of legalized pot does not equate to nation-wide legalization.  Proponents of marijuana legalization expressed displeasure over the outcome, but pointed out notably flaws in the proposed legislation which distinguish it from upcoming challenges in other states.

Ohio Rejects Marijuana Proposal

This week Ohio voters rejected a ballot measure which would have legalized medical and recreational marijuana in the state by a margin of 65% to 35%.  The proposed state constitutional amendment known as Issue 3 would have permitted adults over the age of 21 to use, purchase, and grow small amounts of marijuana recreationally while allowing a wider population to use the plant medicinally.  Advocates for Issue 3 included famous pop star Nick Lachey and pro basketball hall of fame inductee Oscar Robinson, and the pro-marijuana campaign spend more than $12 million dollars during its long and difficult fight to the Ohio referendum ballot.

Despite the millions of dollars spent and the high profile support proponents of Issue 3 fell well short of passage, bringing praise from anti-marijuana campaigners such as Ohio Governor John Kasich.  Gov. Kasich, a Republican presidential candidate, said of the vote, “At a time when too many families are being torn apart by drug abuse, Ohioans said no to easy access to drugs and instead chose a path that helps strengthen our families and communities.”

According to marijuana advocates, however, the resounding victory is less of a referendum against the medicinal or recreational use of marijuana as much as it was the case of a poorly designed piece of marijuana legislation.  The construction of Issue 3 favored a small group of marijuana growers who would have been granted total control over the Ohio pot market leading even strong supporters of legalized marijuana to balk at the law.

Ohio Marijuana Legislation Favored Coalition of Growers

Unlike other marijuana legalization efforts elsewhere in America, Ohio’s ballot measure would have strictly limited the growth and sale of pot to 10 pre-determined farms.  The forced oligopoly would have driven the entire pot market through the 10 farms in perpetuity, meaning the state’s constitution would have authorized only 10 commercial wholesaler operations to ever exist in the state.  The 10 farms are owned collectively by a group of 24 investors, including Lachey, who coincidentally were the same group of people pouring money and time into aggressively promoting the passage of Issue 3.

Issue 3’s marijuana oligopoly brought strong criticism from both traditional anti-marijuana voices and progressive pro-marijuana supporters. Before the pending vote on Issue 3, the Ohio legislature passed a competing measure which explicitly outlawed voter-approved monopolies like the one created by the state’s proposed marijuana amendment.  Unlike Issue 3, the anti-monopoly amendment passed which means the next effort to legalize marijuana in Ohio will not include a provision which similarly limits control over the pot industry to a small number pre-selected growers.

Pro-marijuana groups have largely dismissed the failure of Issue 3 by citing rejection of “Big Marijuana” as the primary cause of the measure’s defeat.  Ethan Nadelmann of the Drug Policy Alliance wrote in a CNN opinion article the defeat of Issue 3 was “relatively insignificant” due to the mandatory oligopoly the law proposed, and said the legalization efforts were focused on other states with upcoming marijuana legalization votes.

Upcoming Marijuana Legalization Votes

With recreational marijuana use already legal in Washington, Oregon, Colorado, and Alaska, advocates for legalization have turned attention to a number of other states which are considering voter referendums or legislative measures designed to legalize use of the drug.  Eleven states including California, Nevada, Maine, and Florida have proposed voter ballots legalizing the drug which may be voted on in 2016.  Five others, including Nebraska and Wyoming, have crafted voter referendums to allow medical marijuana while Vermont and Rhode Island have bills working through the state legislature.

The 2016 election season will feature intense debate on marijuana legalization and serve as a barometer about the future of pot legislation in both short and long term.  While anti-marijuana Conservatives have hailed the rejection of Issue 3 as a harbinger of future rejection to come, supporter of legalized marijuana remain optimistic for the success of legislation without the economic flaws written into Ohio’s failed constitutional amendment.

 

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