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Ohio Votes NO

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Big business can buy its way into a lot of places but, as Ohio voters showed Tuesday, not into control of legalized marijuana.

Issue 3, a proposed constitutional amendment that would have legalized pot for both medical and recreation use and would have given exclusive commercial growing rights in perpetuity to 10 pre-determined landowners, was defeated in a landslide 64 percent to 36 percent vote.

While many among the proponents wanted a yes vote in order to provide marijuana relief for the chronically ill, the medical aspect of the initiative almost got lost in Ohio’s battle. It became more of a fight against greed.

The backstory

Marijuana activists in Ohio have been leading a quiet fight to legalize pot for more than 40 years. Unsuccessfully.

Then, in swoops ResponsibleOhio, a bunch of moneyed investors with a plan – and the financial backing — to give proponents what they’ve been fighting for: Legal pot.

And yet, voters turned it down. It wasn’t right. It wasn’t fair. The monopoly that would have been established in the state constitution, no less, just didn’t sit right with the marijuana grassroots freedom fighters.

“Voters won’t tolerate this issue being taken over by greedy special interests. Our ongoing national movement to end marijuana prohibition is focused on civil rights, health and public safety, not profits for small groups of investors.” Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group, said.

Proponents torn

But, on the other hand, Issue 3 gave Ohio the chance to become the first state in the nation that would have been smart enough to eliminate the costly dance leading up to the inevitable legalization for all consumers by combining approval for both medical and recreational use in the same vote.

Rejecting it hurt. In fact, up until the last minute, the vote was seen as too close to call. Would those in favor of legalization vote for it at all costs?

Predicting the end result was made even more difficult by the fact the vote took place in an off-year when voter turnout is much less – and much older and more conservative — than the electorate in a presidential year. Would the initiative drive more voters to the polls?

It turned out that it didn’t. Tuesday’s turnout was 41 percent, about average for an off-year.

Another thing that didn’t help Issue 3 was the Issue 2. Right above it on the ballot was a competing initiative drawn up by the Ohio legislature that would outlaw voter-approved monopolies – and oligopolies, in which not one but many have market dominance – like the one the legalization issue would create.

Issue 2, by the way, passed in a 52 percent to 48 percent margin. While moot this year, it will derail similar ballot issues in the future.

Legalize now, worry later

While some pro-legalization activists nobly stood by their principles to keep greed out of the marijuana business, NORML, the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, which has been fighting to legalize marijuana since 1970, supported Issue 3.

Someone is going to get rich in the “Green Rush” regardless of how legalization is structured or funded, Keith Stroup, the group’s legal counsel said.

“At NORML, we recognize there are many inequities in the free market system, with an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us. But NORML is not an organization established to deal with income inequality; we are a lobby for responsible marijuana smokers. So we will leave other issues, including income inequality, to other organizations who focus on those issues, and we will continue to focus on legalizing marijuana,” Stroup wrote in a blog on NORML’s website.

So, what’s next?

After the vote, ResponsibleOhio, which reportedly spent some $25 million in the failed campaign, vowed to remain in the fight for legalization. It said it will start from the beginning, this time listening to the wishes of the voters.

Only time will tell.

Meanwhile, 2016 is poised to be the biggest year yet for marijuana ballot issues. Even without Ohio in the mix, 11 states could see recreational legalization on the ballot, five may put medical legalization before voters and another two may put recreational pot before state legislatures.

No surprise with a recent Gallup poll showing national support for legalization at nearly 60 percent.

One thing for sure, John Hudak of the Brookings Institution, an independent think-tank said, don’t read anything into the failed vote in Ohio. It had too much going against it from the start, most importantly putting it before voters in an off-year.

Perhaps this one tweet from @jeffrgh best summed up the voting result: “Now that #issue3 didn’t pass I’m sure everyone will stop smoking weed, if there’s one thing American’s love, it’s abiding the law!”