Why the Marijuana Measure Failed

By   November 12, 2015

Ohio voters rejected a ballot measure to legalize marijuana on November 3. Why did the measure fail?

The way the initiative was written, a small group of wealthy campaign contributors would be given the sole rights to produce marijuana. Even advocates for legalizing marijuana called this an unfair oligopoly.

Ohio isn’t known as a progressive legislative state like the four other pot states of Colorado, Oregon, Alaska and Washington state. In fact, Ohio doesn’t even have a medical marijuana clause yet, although it was one of the first states to decriminalize pot in the 1970s.

While Ohio faced idealogical challenges to legalizing marijuana, the death knell to the legalization was Ohio’s Issue 3 structuring. The legislation would legalize marijuana for medical and recreational purposes but put a small group of wealthy legalization campaign contributors in charge of producing all the pot in the state.

The move rallied opponents of legalization, pushed away the major national advocacy groups that would normally back a marijuana legalization measure and left supporters of legalization questioning if it was worth legalizing marijuana through the creation of an unfair, pot-growing monopoly in the state of Ohio.

The most famous of the contributors was Nick Lachey, band member of the boy band 98 Degrees. But even his high profile could not help sway voters, especially with the initiative’s unusual conditions.

The voters overwhelmingly voted no on the ballot.

A ballot measure is an expensive proposition. The group behind the state’s legalization measure, Responsible Ohio, decided to attract campaign contributors by rewarding them with guaranteed licenses to the ten recognized state marijuana farms in exchange for their monetary contributions towards the campaign. Contributors were basically buying access to the rights of the lucrative pot production business.

Under the measure, Ohioans of age 21 and older would have been able to legally possess up to an ounce of marijuana and with a $50 license could have up to four flowering marijuana plants and up to 8 ounces of pot in their homes. As most measures, public pot consumption was not allowed.

The ten farms would have sold marijuana to more than 1,000 retail outlets, nonprofit medical dispensaries, and manufacturers. The measure included formation of a regulatory commission to oversee all of the businesses and making sure that Ohio’s demand for marijuana is met by the industry.

The initiative seemed pretty standard. Except for the guaranteed license clause. Voters and opponents were most hung up on the issue of wealthy contributors receiving licenses, calling them a “marijuana cartel.”

The measure did place some limits on pot growers, allowing a regulatory commission to revoke licenses and issue them to other parties. The commission would also have been able to establish new farms after a few years if it was necessary to keep up with growing demand, suggesting that it was unlikely that only ten pot farms may would have been the only growers. But those clauses were not enough to distract voters from the potential marijuana cartel the legislation would form.

While Responsible Ohio’s plan to finance an expensive campaign was creative, it put off voters and supporters with its special favors for contributors. And so the marijuana legalization issue in Ohio is back to the drawing board.