Will Ohio Legalize Marijuana In 2018?


Ohio voted on marijuana legalization in 2015. The initiative, backed by an organization called ResponsibleOhio, failed by a vote of 64% to 36%. ResponsibleOhio poured over $20 million dollars into the campaign effort, which was the most profit-motivated legalization initiative to ever make a state ballot. After the initiative’s defeat The Heritage Foundation, a staunch anti-cannabis organization, described the vote as follows:

One of the most surprising results from this week’s state elections was Ohio voters voting overwhelmingly against Big Pot. By a nearly 2-to-1 margin, they defeated a ballot measure that would have permitted the legalization of marijuana in the Buckeye State.

Misleadingly named ResponsibleOhio, the measure would have allowed the commercial production, retail sale and personal use of marijuana. Yet despite Big Pot’s $25 million cash infusion into the effort, voters rejected the spin that marijuana legalization is safe or in the best interests of citizens.

Other cannabis opponents touted the Ohio initiative’s defeat as a sign of things to come, that just as Ohio had ‘rejected marijuana legalization’ so too would other states. Zoom forward one year and cannabis opponents had to eat large amounts of crow after four out of five states that voted on marijuana legalization approved their state’s measures. Only Arizona’s initiative was defeated, and even then, only after enormous amounts of money were poured into the opposition’s campaign effort.

The initiative’s defeat was far from surprising. It was a poorly crafted initiative that faced extreme opposition from many members of the cannabis community (for the record, I did not oppose the initiative and instead deferred to Ohio voters, as I have done in other states). The initiative’s campaign featured what I described at the time as THE WORST idea in cannabis reform history – Buddie the Marijuana Mascot. Buddie can be seen below, via Cincinnati.com:

buddie the marijuana mascot

Ending cannabis prohibition has many merits, and therefore efforts that seek to end cannabis prohibition do not need gimmicks like Buddie the Marijuana Mascot. I would be blown away to find out if Buddie convinced even one voter to vote for cannabis legalization in Ohio. It certainly brought a lot of attention to the campaign effort, but not the good kind of attention. Cannabis supporters and opponents both agreed that the mascot was terrible, which is one of the few things that both sides have agreed upon in the cannabis political world.

ReponsibleOhio is back with an effort geared towards legalizing marijuana in Ohio in 2018. Per Cleveland.com:

The co-founder of Ohio’s 2015 failed recreational marijuana legalization measure plans to back a new legalization effort next year.

Jimmy Gould, co-founder of ResponsibleOhio, and others plan to propose on Monday a “free market” recreational marijuana measure for the 2018 ballot, according to a news release. Gould, along with ResponsibleOhio co-founder Ian James, unsuccessfully applied for one of the state’s medical marijuana cultivator licenses.

Like 2015, the 2018 effort has strong financial backing. But things have changed in Ohio since the failed 2015 legalization effort occurred. Since the 2015 vote Ohio has legalized cannabis for medical use. Ohio’s medical marijuana program is far from perfect, but it is better than full prohibition.

With medical marijuana already legal in Ohio, Ohio voters likely have even less appetite for an initiative like the 2015 version. One of the selling points for the 2015 effort that gained some traction with voters is that patients would be helped by legalization via legal access to marijuana. That selling point is obviously moot now. If ReponsibleOhio is going to succeed on Election Day 2018, it needs to put forth an initiative that helps everyone in a meaningful way, not just the investors backing it.

As with the 2015 effort, I will be deferring to Ohio voters if/when an initiative makes the ballot. Whatever the ReponsibleOhio initiative includes in its initiative language, Ohio voters need to weigh whether the initiative is as good as it’s going to get for the state of Ohio, or if waiting for a better opportunity in the near future is better (and realistic). That is up to Ohio voters to decide.

2018 is shaping up to be a very interesting year for cannabis reform. If Ohio makes the ballot, it would join Michigan in voting on marijuana legalization via a citizen initiative (hopefully, signatures are still being validated in Michigan!). Missouri and Utah look like they will make the ballot for medical marijuana, Oklahoma has already made the 2018 ballot (which one in 2018 is still up in the air), and Vermont and New Jersey are looking good for legalization via legislative action. But nothing is guaranteed, so if you live in those states, get active!

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