In a major blow to marijuana legalization nationwide, Ohio voters Tuesday rejected a sweeping initiative that would have ended pot prohibition in the Buckeye State.
Unofficial election results found that the proposed constitutional amendment, known as Issue 3, was defeated 65.1% to 34.8%.
Voters did write into the Ohio Constitution a provision known has Issue 2 that prohibits the establishment of a “monopoly, oligopoly or cartel” in the state’s founding document. The ballot issue, which the state legislature wrote expressly to defeat the marijuana language, passed 52.6% to 47.4%.
At the Ohio Chamber of Commerce in Columbus, opponents of legalization rejoiced in their double victory, achieved even though they were outspent by a whopping 20-to-1 ratio. Curt Steiner, campaign director for Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies, told the gathering that important issues such as the medical use of marijuana were “overshadowed by the brazen nature and far-reaching extent of the statewide money grab attempted by Issue 3 backers — an attempt voters concluded was, in this instance, an unsavory abuse of the ballot issue process.
“Issue 3 was nothing more and nothing less than a business plan to seize control of the recreational marijuana market in Ohio,” Steiner said. “Issue 3 was designed and built primarily to garner massive and exclusive profits for a small group of self-selected wealthy investors. Issue 3 was about greed, not good public policy.”
At a hotel half a mile away investors in and supporters of the Ohio plan mourned the results. Ian James, executive director of the private investor group ResponsibleOhio, did not concede the election in remarks just before 10 p.m. ET. But he acknowledged that the outcome did not look good for his campaign.
“This is a bump in the road,” James said. “When the statehouse refuses to deal with the voters, the voters have to make the deal to make sure that their voices are heard, and the only way you can do that is through the petition process.”
Even the large urban counties, Hamilton, Franklin, Cuyahoga, Lucas and Montgomery, where Issue 3 supporters had hoped their support would rest, came out against legalization.
Tuesday’s outcome concluded a yearlong campaign by ResponsibleOhio, the private organization that put $20 million into the effort to persuade voters to legalize marijuana. Had the issue won, Ohio would have been the sixth jurisdiction to legalize after Alaska, Colorado, the District of Columbia, Oregon and Washington state.
Election night came with extra drama when ResponsibleOhio raced to court with an hour before polls were officially to close at 7:30 p.m. Former state Sen. Eric Kearney, representing ResponsibleOhio, asked for an injunction to keep the polls open another 90 minutes because new precinct election computers had slowed voting, and some voters were turned away. A judge agreed to the request. The Secretary Of State’s Office then delayed all election results until 9 p.m.
Voters who voted no on Issue 3 expressed concern about exposing children to marijuana. Karen Olchovy of West Chester said voting down legalization was the main reason she voted. “I basically don’t want it available for my kids.”
Katie Kauffeld, of Mariemont, who voted no on Issue 3, said, “I don’t have a problem with the legalization of marijuana, I have a problem with the monopoly and the way this particular amendment was written up. I feel like it gives certain players in the game a monopoly on the situation, and I’d like to see a different setup for it.”
Democratic Rep. Mike Curtin of Columbus, who led the campaign against Issue 3, said that despite the defeat, the Ohio Legislature cannot ignore the electoral sentiment and should address how to relax restrictions on marijuana.
“I’m optimistic the legislature will take the bull by the horns and allow the public debate to continue,” Curtin said. “I would hope that they would do it in a very subdued, methodical, intelligent way.”
When ResponsibleOhio gathered enough signatures in July to make the November 3rd ballot, the state’s political structure coalesced to launch its offensive. Curtin recruited Steiner, a longtime political consultant in Columbus, to craft a large coalition of organizations opposed to legalization.
Through the summer and fall, ResponsibleOhio outspent Ohioans to End Marijuana Monopolies. But the No on 3 group acquired endorsements from more than 140 groups around the state — an extraordinary melding of medical, legal, banking, law enforcement, chambers of commerce, political entities, trade unions and mental health and addiction agencies.
Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies raised barely $1 million to fight ResponsibleOhio’s $20 million campaign treasury. But the constituent groups used their internal communication systems as well as news conferences and debate platforms to warn against the dangers of legalizing marijuana in Ohio.