5 Hard Lessons From Ohio’s Failed Legalization Effort

Published on November 4, 2015 · Last updated July 28, 2020

ResponsibleOhio’s amendment to legalize both medical and recreational cannabis failed to pass today, leaving many across the country wondering what went wrong. The group’s efforts were criticized for many reasons, including its flawed petition process and intent to establish an oligopoly. As the dust settles in the Buckeye State, here are five takeaways from Ohio’s first attempt to legalize that may help course-correct any future proposals.

1. Words and Details: They Matter…

The fine print will make or break a legalization measure. Washington State’s I-502 needed a controversial drugged driving per se component (the 5 nanograms per milliliter blood test) to gain critical political support in 2012. In Colorado, Amendment 64 included a necessary nod to the state’s traditional homegrow culture. Ohio’s Issue 3 failed primarily because voters couldn’t stomach the details, which gave exclusive growing rights to the 10 investment groups sponsoring the initiative.

Word to the legal scribes prepping 2016 propositions in Arizona and California: Craft carefully, and create a fair and open industry — or you may have no industry at all.

2. …Especially If One of Those Words Is “Monopoly”

Issue 3 may have died the day the Ohio Supreme Court ruled that “monopoly” had to remain in the amendment’s title after Ohio’s secretary of state put it there to undermine the measure. Some loaded words (recreational, pot, stoner) can be overcome. But monopoly is downright un-American — the very word conjures the figure of Rich Uncle Pennybags.

The bought-and-sold aspect of Issue 3 was so odious that even The New Jim Crow author Michelle Alexander, the Rachel Carson of today’s social justice movement, found herself unable to cast her ballot in favor of rescinding prohibition. “Granting an oligopoly to 10 wealthy investors…” she wrote, “is not justice.”

With legalization polling at 58% nationally, a majority of Americans now believe in legal, regulated cannabis. But in Ohio, their commitment to fair play proved to be stronger.

3. Ballot Confusion Can Hurt a Measure, But Probably Won’t Kill It

Once Issue 3 (pro-legalization) made it on the ballot, anti-legalization legislators added Issue 2, which would effectively nullify a pro-pot vote. One veteran pot campaigner called it “a political cock-block,” which is a crude way of describing a tried-and-true strategy for killing any statewide initiative: Baffle the voters.

Many Ohioans thought a vote for Issue 2 was a vote to legalize. (It wasn’t.) One week before the election, Dayton’s WDTN declared “Voters Confused” by the conflicting measures. WDTN asked nine people how they’d vote. “Eight of them didn’t make the ballot selections they really intended.” Yes, but voting is often like jury duty: When it really counts, most people get serious and take the time to cast correctly.

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“Ohio voters are savvy,” says Columbus-based political consultant Jonathan Varner. “They’re had experience with competing ballot issues like this. Voters can differentiate between the two issues and make the right call.”

4. Medical Marijuana Isn’t a Prerequisite for Legalization, But Skipping That Step Left MMJ Patients With Zero Options

Issue 3 was the first post-2012 adult use legalization attempt in a non-MMJ state. That didn’t seem to affect the result. With all the national coverage of cannabis affairs, voters are up on the issue. A plain-vanilla medical marijuana measure might have coasted to victory in Ohio. (So too, it might be argued, a fair and equitable adult-use plan.)

Instead, Issue 3 backers went full overreach, asking for adult use and an exclusive on the market. Result: Ohio’s medical marijuana patients are now left with no access to legal relief. Leapfrogging the MMJ half-step could save years of unnecessary arrests and millions of tax dollars. But it risks leaving patients with a big fistful of nothing when the votes are counted and the banners come down.

5. No More Creepy Mascots, Please

Who thought it was a good idea to personify responsible legalization with a cocksure pickle-headed mutant? “Buddie,” a bad idea walking, was ResponsibleOhio’s attempt to connect with college students, or cosplay fans, or…somebody. We’re not sure who.

When the folks at marijuanapackaging.com — who, remember, are in the business of selling marijuana packaging — call your six-packed superhero an “irresponsible mascot,” it’s time to reconsider your branding scheme. Every time Buddie stepped out of the camper, he took the “responsible” out of ResponsibleOhio.

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Leafly Staff
Leafly Staff
Leafly is the world’s largest cannabis information resource, empowering people in legal cannabis markets to learn about the right products for their lifestyle and wellness needs. Our team of cannabis professionals collectively share years of experience in all corners of the market, from growing and retail, to science and medicine, to data and technology.
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