Marijuana legalization stalls in Ohio

On this election night, one of several issues Ohioans were voting on was an initiative to legalize marijuana.  The initiative was Issue 3, written and pushed by the legalization group, ResponsibleOhio.  Issue 3 asked Ohio voters if they wanted to legalize marijuana, and set up a 10-grower monopoly.  Issue 3, and more specifically ResponsibleOhio also gave us Buddie, the marijuana industry’s Joe Camel, who travelled college campuses around Ohio trying to win over young voters (the industry’s money-demographic).  In the end, Ohioans roundly rejected the initiative by a nearly 2 to 1 margin; at the time of this writing the results are Yes – 35% and No 65%.

Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies (OAMM), a local, grassroots organization supported in part by Ohio’s Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action affiliate, led the opposition to Issue 3. According to their press statement, OAMM’s coalition included parents, medical professionals, law enforcement, and small business owners.  The group goes on to describe that their coalition is bipartisan, consisting of Republicans, Democrats, Libertarians, and Greens. The Issue 3 initiative was supported and endorsed by political consultants, NORML, Ethan Nadelmann, the head of the Drug Policy Alliance, and the Marijuana Policy Project.

This is a huge loss for the marijuana legalization movement and demonstrates growing discomfort with the greed and profit-motive behind legalization efforts.  Voters in Ohio registered a very clear verdict, the reverberations of which will likely carry into 2016.  It is a message that certainly will be carried through to the debate that will be happening here in Maine for 2016.

As I have written about previously, the Marijuana Policy Project and Legalize Maine have decided to join forces in a push to get one legalization initiative on the 2016 ballot.  Mainers will have to question whether it wants to support an initiative pushed by an organization, Marijuana Policy Project, that also backed the greed-driven Ohio initiative.  Additionally, like ResponsibleOhio, the Marijuana Policy Project Foundation Board of Directors is a who’s-who of wealthy, mostly white male marijuana company CEOs and heads of marijuana investment groups.  To be sure, the Marijuana Policy Project will likely have learned one lesson from Ohio, do a better job of hiding the profit-motive.

The reality of course is that Issue 3 in Ohio isn’t the first legalization initiative that was about greed and profits off addiction.  That started in Colorado.  When you see an industry that’s pushing gummy bears and lollipops, and other edibles to hook young and novice users, it’s pretty clear what the priority is.  It isn’t about criminal justice.  It’s about naked money.  Issue 3 in Ohio is just the natural progression of the “green rush.”  As was recently described by Keith Humphreys in The Week, Big Marijuana has completely taken over and is driving the legalization “movement.”

Although their morals are being widely impugned, there is no questioning the cold economic logic of the initiative’s backers. Marijuana legalization presents a golden opportunity for corporations to enrich themselves by selling a new intoxicant under ideal business conditions.”

The result in Ohio makes it clear that voters are starting to dig deeper and look at the long-reaching ramifications of legalization campaigns.  Mainers are asking those questions as well, and are well served to continue to ask those questions as the legalization vote likely comes in 2016.  A key question: when we are in the middle of a substance abuse epidemic, do we really want to create a new legal drug industry and increase youth access to drugs?

But for tonight, this is a huge win for Ohio and for the broader movement working to prevent marijuana legalization and commercialization in other states.  Here in Maine, it is certain that movement will continue to grow and speak out.

Buh-bye Buddie!


Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

About Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C

Scott M. Gagnon, MPP, PS-C is a Certified Prevention Specialist and is the Director of Operations at AdCare Educational Institute of Maine, Inc. He currently serves on the Maine Substance Abuse Services Commission as well as the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services, Center for Substance Abuse Prevention National Advisory Council. Scott volunteers as the Chair of the marijuana policy education and advocacy group, Smart Approaches to Marijuana Maine and is the current Board President of the Maine Council on Problem Gambling. Scott also serves as a Co-chair of the Prevention & Harm Reduction task force of the Maine Opiate Collaborative, the effort convened by U.S. Attorney Thomas E Delahanty, II to address Maine's growing opiate and addiction crisis. Scott is the recipient of the 2015 Maine Public Health Association's Ruth S. Shaper Memorial Award and 2015 Healthy Androscoggin Will Bartlett Award and is also the 2013 recipient of the Maine Alliance to Prevent Substance Abuse Prevention Award.