Ohio voters have said no to legalizing marijuana in their state, after a contentious campaign that split supporters over the details of removing prohibition.
The choice was a complex one compared to legalization measures in other states. Ohioans who wanted to choose to legalize marijuana also had to vote to allow 10 companies to be the only licensed pot growers in the state — a situation many said would create a monopoly for a few wealthy investors. However, some supporters have said more growers could be licensed later.
The vote came Tuesday after more than a year of campaigning by ResponsibleOhio, a political action committee supported by investors who stood to benefit from the legalization of the drug, which remains illegal after the defeat of Issue 3, the constitutional amendment containing the legalization language.
Opponents of prohibition said the defeat was not an overwhelming blow to the legalization movement.
“I don’t see the defeat of Issue 3 slowing the national momentum for ending marijuana prohibition,” Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance, a pro-legalization group, said in a statement.
“Voters, including those who would like to see marijuana legally regulated and taxed, were clearly turned off by the oligopoly provision. None of the legalization initiatives enacted to date … contains such a provision nor do any of the initiatives headed to the ballot in 2016 — in California, Nevada, Arizona, Maine, Massachusetts and possibly Michigan,” he added.
Ohio would have joined Colorado, Washington, Oregon and the District of Columbia as places where marijuana possession is legal for recreational purposes, and 23 states plus the District of Columbia where it is legal for medicinal use. Consumption in public and by Ohioans under age 21 would remain illegal, as would driving under the influence.
The American Civil Liberties Union had supported the Ohio measure.
“Issue 3 needs to pass on Election Day because its failure may well mean another 10 or 20 years of the same bad policies of excessive punishment, a justice system clogged by marijuana prosecutions, lives ruined by prison, and marijuana in the hands of illegal, unregulated, and dangerous cartels,” the ACLU wrote on its website in September.
The Ohio decision involved two different initiatives, Issue 2 and Issue 3. Legalizing marijuana for recreational and medicinal use was covered in Issue 3, along with language establishing 10 grow sites as the state’s only licensed producers. Separate retailers could open shops, but would have to buy from those growers.
According to the language of Issue 2, Ohioans over 21 would have been able “to purchase, possess, transport, use, and share up to 1 ounce of marijuana for recreational use.” Licensed residents would also be able to grow four flowering plants, but the majority of commercial growing would have been done by the 10 investors.
But what confused many voters were the provisions in Issue 2, inserted by lawmakers in the statehouse opposed to marijuana legalization. Issue 2 would have kept Ohio’s laws against monopolies unchanged, stopping the changes in the law necessary to let the 10 growers operate. ResponsibleOhio and its supporters had been urging a no vote on 2, but a yes vote on 3.
But some Ohio voters said they voted against Issue 3, even though they firmly support marijuana legalization.
“It doesn't help the current entrepreneurs that make a living from growing. The current growers will still be criminals and the rich will be more rich,” said Emily Ellis, 29, a psychologist living in Toledo. She said she voted against Issue 3.
“Issue 3 isn't for the people, it's for investors,” Ellis added.
Others were less sure of what to do, but they felt something was wrong about the way legalization would work.
One legalization supporter, Jessi Bream, 24, who works for a Columbus construction supply company, said before the vote Tuesday that she was conflicted about what to do.
“The only part that I have a problem with is the part where we are writing an amendment to the constitution. I could see why people would go either way, but the government-controlled monopoly is scary to me. But then again, I guess most things are government-controlled monopolies,” Bream said.
“I'm just concerned that when weed is legal federally, we will be stuck with this deal,” she added.
Even on Tuesday, some were still undecided.
“I'm definitely voting no on 2. I'm still on the fence about issue 3, but leaning ‘yes,’” said Phillip Porter, 29, a Columbus web developer. “I hate the monopoly part, but I feel like the social benefits may outweigh all of that. The other part of me feels like we could see national legalization/decriminalization soon, too. Definitely a tough decision.”
Now that voters have decided against Issue 3, the next round of negotiations begins. Proponents of legalization without the monopoly provision are gearing up for 2016, when they hope to get the issue on the ballot.