Smoking Pot Still Illegal in Ohio

Ohio voters struck down a citizen-led measure that would have made it the first Midwestern state to legalize marijuana. But it won’t be the last time the issue makes it to the ballot.
by | November 4, 2015
University of Cincinnati students take a picture with Buddie, the mascot for Ohio's marijuana legalization effort. (ResponsibleOhio)

This is part of our 2015 elections coverage. Get more results here.

Ohio voters favored legalizing recreational marijuana by a fairly healthy majority, but they still rejected a statewide ballot initiative that would have made the Buckeye State the fifth in the country (and the first in the Midwest) to do so.

The proposal, Issue 3, would have legalized marijuana for recreational and medicinal use. A group called ResponsibleOhio, which was created by a firm called the Strategy Network that specializes in ballot campaigns, got the measure on the ballot and estimated that legalization would have generated $554 million in annual tax revenue after full implementation. But the trouble for voters was that the measure also designated 10 locations across the state with exclusive rights to grow pot for commercial sale -- and those sites would be owned and operated by investors bankrolling ResponsibleOhio's campaign.

The measure was defeated with 64 percent of voters striking it down. They also approved by 52 percent a competing initiative called Issue 2, an anti-monopoly measure that targeted the system of 10 marijuana-growing sites that would have been created by Issue 3. State legislators put the anti-monopoly measure on the ballot in response to ResponsibleOhio’s campaign. Issue 2 bans individuals or private economic interests from placing new monopolies, cartels or oligopolies into the Ohio Constitution for their own benefit.

Ian James, head of ResponsibleOhio, defended his group’s effort, calling it a “true citizen’s initiative” driven by residents tired of their legislature not taking up the issue. On election night, he issued a statement thanking supporters and vowing that this would not be the end of the legalization effort.

“We started the conversation, and we’re going to continue the conversation starting tomorrow,” James said. “The status quo doesn’t work, it’s unacceptable and we’re not going away. All the things we’ve fought for are true. Ohioans still need treatment and deserve compassionate care. And our state needs the jobs and tax revenue that marijuana legalization will bring.”

Ohioans favor legalization by 58 percent, according to a Quinnipiac University poll conducted last month. More than 80 percent favor legalizing medicinal marijuana.

Brookings Institution Fellow John Hudak noted that the ballot initiative appearing in an “off-off” election year – one without any statewide offices in contention -- may have also doomed Issue 3. “Turnout in off-off years is notoriously low and tends to skew older and more conservative -- marijuana reform’s biggest skeptic,” he wrote in his election night analysis. “It is not to say that reform would have surely been successful in a presidential year, but you can be certain support for Issue 3 would have been higher in 2016 than it was tonight.”

Both sides fought a bitter campaign. The state even opened up an investigation into ResponsibleOhio for possible voter fraud because a handful of the petition signatures and voter registration forms they submitted to the state were from dead people or prisoners. Proponents of each proposal spent millions of dollars leading up to Election Day.

Other pot legalization efforts are in the works. Most notably, an effort called LegalizeOhio2016 is organizing to put a pot legalization ballot measure on next year’s ballot. Aaron Weaver, who supports that effort, also headed up a group called Citizens Against ResponsibleOhio that helped defeat Issue 3.

“We’re against monopolization," he said. "No matter what carrot is dangled in front of us, we’re not going to be chomping at the bit to say yes to something that isn’t right.”

This is part of our 2015 elections coverage. Get more results here.