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Ohio rejects marijuana legalization

November 4, 2015
by Julia Brown, Associate Editor
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An amendment that would have legalized the recreational use of marijuana in Ohio was struck down yesterday, winning just 35.9 percent of the overall vote in the state. Experts say despite the outcome, states will continue to put marijuana on the ballot.

Rather than legalizing recreational use and allowing businesses to sell cannabis (like in Colorado) or centralizing distribution under state agencies (Washington), the state’s initiative, Issue 3, was backed by investors who would have retained the exclusive rights to cultivate marijuana at 10 growing sites in the state. The business model of the amendment was designed to put a corporate face on cannabis and gain strong monetary support for the ballot issue, according to analysts, which proved highly controversial.

The outcome of the election begs the question of whether Ohioans opposed the legalization itself or its monopolistic framework. A separate measure, issue 2, that proposed the banning of monopolies in the state was also placed on the ballot won by just 52%.   

Becky Vaughn, vice president of addiction for the National Council for Behavioral Health, says the legislation in Ohio was flawed from the beginning because it turning into a way for select individuals to make profit, which voters clearly saw.  

If Ohioans had voted to both legalize marijuana through a monopoly but also ban monopolies, this may have led to a dissolving of the monopoly leaving legalization standing. While that may not have materialized, it’s doubtful that this is the last legalization attempt in the state when national support has reached nearly 60% and continues to rise.

Meanwhile, in Colorado, where the use of recreational marijuana became legal in 2012, voters overwhelmingly approved a statewide ballot measure allowing state lawmakers to spend $66.1 million in taxes collected from the recreational sales. Bipartisan backed, the majority outcome wasn’t surprising.

As a result, $40 million will go to school construction and $12 million will be designated for youth and substance abuse programs. The remaining $14.1 million will go to discretionary accounts controlled by state lawmakers. It was the third time in four years Colorado voters considered how to spend marijuana taxes.

Vaughn says neither outcome was overly surprising or should act as an indicator of where legislation is going. “States will continue to put marijuana on the ballot, and we’d rather see policy leaders take initiative and respond to the ballot proposals,” she says.

Vaughn adds that she still has a lot of concerns when it comes to recreational marijuana legalization, particularly when it comes to use among young people.

“Tons of research shows this is a setback for developing brains. Legalization shows [youths] that this isn’t a harmful substance when it is, and if the perceived risk is low then use will continue to go up,” she says. “I always say ‘follow the science,’ and in this case it’s clear.”