Support for marijuana legalization is high in Ohio, and observers say there’s a good chance the issue will pass at the polls this November. But there’s a roadblock standing in the way of further reform, and it may kill legalization even if voters approve it.
The problem is that voters face two conflicting ballot initiatives in this year’s election. One, known as Issue 3, would legalize weed for both medicine and recreation and would create a legal industry to provide it. That industry would be built around 10 grow sites, with a small number of state-approved businesses controlling cultivation, processing, transport, and sale.
The other, Issue 2, would put language in the state constitution barring the creation of monopolies in Ohio. Since Isssue 3 would impose a quasi-monopolistic system, Issue 2 would potentially cancel it out. If that happens, said Associate Prof. Ryan Claassen, who teaches in the political science department at Kent State University, a “constitutional crisis” would follow.
Ohio voters plan to vote “yes” to both measures
A recent poll found that most Ohio voters plan to vote “yes” on each item. That could lead to political and legal chaos, though adults would still be allowed to possess small amounts of pot.
Supporters of the “anti-monopoly” crusade (read: anti-weed) said they didn’t believe the results of the poll. Issue 3, they predicted, will fail “by a wide margin.” Turnout is usually low in Ohio, and the poll relied on data from all voters instead of only “likely” voters; Issue 2 supporters note that polls using likely voters are usually more accurate, though they offered no proof the most recent survey is flawed.
On the other side of the issue, legalization supporters noted that support for Issue 2 is on the decline, while support for Issue 3 is climbing.
“The only caveat is that Issue 2 is on a steady descent,” said Jennifer Redman, spokeswoman for Responsible Ohio, the group behind the ballot initiative.
ResponsibleOhio chose to push its plan in 2015, instead of 2016, because backers felt they could get a higher proportion of reform-minded voters to the polls. According to this thinking, a higher-turnout election, like the presidential contest next year, could draw more conservative Ohio voters and sink legalization.
Good prospects for Issue 3
But that’s not what the poll found. Pollsters said the odds of success for a legal weed question were good in 2016, just as they are this year.
Ohio State University law Prof. Doug Berman said it’s possible opinions on both issues will change substantially in the next few days. What’s more, the success of Issue 3 at this point could attract new financing, increasing the odds of success on Election Day.
“The joy in this is we have 20 days and we’re going to find out,” he said in October.
Even legal experts are unsure how events would unfold should voters approve both measures. It’s possible one or both could be declared legally deficient, but since both seek to change Ohio’s state constitution, the courts may not be able to easily resolve the issue.
In any event, opponents of legalization may have found a clever tool to block reform of Ohio’s cannabis laws – for now. But they can’t hold back the tide forever. Even if Issue 3 fails this year, legalization will be back on the ballot soon, and it will eventually succeed, with or without the interference of the people behind Issue 2.