As Ohio Preps for Legalization Vote, the Movement Is Split in Two; It's a Bad Omen for California


The unlikely state of Ohio is set to vote on legalization next week, and the whole debacle should send a chill down the spine of California reformers this Halloween.

Ohio's Issue 3 would end cannabis prohibition in the Midwestern state, but limit commercial pot cultivation to ten companies that backed the Initiative. lists some of the cartel members:
Former 98 Degrees singer Nick Lachey
Former Cincinnati Bengals defensive end Frostee Rucker
Dayton pain specialist Suresh Gupta
WEBN radio host Frank Wood
Barbara Gould, a philanthropist based in Indian Hill
University of Cincinnati basketball star Oscar Robertson
Paul Heldman, former general counsel of The Kroger Co.
Woody Taft, a descendant of President William Howard Taft

The cartel's idea has split the national reform community, Forbes notes, with one side supporting prohibition’s end, despite the oligopoly, and the other set of legalizers ready to vote with police for continued pot prohibition in Ohio.

ResponsibleOhio faces attacks from the political right and the left (above) before Election Day. - CITIZENS AGAINST RESPONSIBLE OHIO
  • Citizens Against Responsible Ohio
  • ResponsibleOhio faces attacks from the political right and the left (above) before Election Day.

Columnist activist Russ Belville notes: “Why isn’t every drug law reform group making their get-out-the-vote push and shouting it from the rooftops? ... NORML, [Marijuana Policy Project], [Drug Policy Alliance], & [Americans for Safe Access] are lukewarm, neutral, or silent on Ohio marijuana legalization that would be superior to Washington’s I-502 and superior to the most recent medical marijuana laws, because the wrong oligopoly gets rich.”

Indeed, leaders of Marijuana Policy Project are neither supporting nor opposing Issue 3. “We encourage residents to carefully consider the measure and be sure to vote this November!” MPP states.

Drug Policy Alliance is equally ambivalent.

“Ohio's initiative, however, is unprecedented, and profoundly problematic, in creating a constitutionally mandated oligopoly — modeled after a successful casino legalization initiative in 2009 — for the specific benefit of the 10 major investors.” wrote DPA’s Ethan Nadelmann Thursday in an op-ed for “With that said, I must admit that I'm rooting for Issue 3 to win, mostly because a victory on Election Day 2015 would significantly accelerate the momentum toward ending marijuana prohibition nationwide.”

By contrast: Ohio’s failure will be read as “the only failure in the country,” an MPP spokesperson said in an interview, “and then the media will feed on that: ‘Oh, my God, legalization is backsliding.’…If they lose, which is not guaranteed, it might change the national narrative for one year.”

Most profoundly, Nadelmann notes:

“Ohio's initiative foreshadows what lies ahead, not in 2016 but years thereafter. … legal profit seekers will play a leading role… and advocates for civil rights and liberties… will need to do all we can to ensure post-prohibition policies reflect [our] values.”
The latest polling shows Ohioans split (46-46) on Issue 3 as well — spookily similar to the final Prop 19 vote in California in 2010. A 46 percent showing does not bode well for the final push of ResponsibleOhio — which stumbled repeatedly on its way to the ballot box.

Ohio Republican Governor John Kasich is also loudly scaremongering over Issue 3, highlighting the bogeyman of less urine screenings for marijuana. (Even though such tests don’t detect on-the-job cannabis use, only byproducts detectable for more than thirty days.)

“You don’t want the nurse at the hospital to not have passed the drug test. You don’t want the guy driving the truck full of chemicals to not have passed a drug test,” said Kasich, who is also running for the GOP presidential nomination in 2016.

Ohio’s recipe for failure bodes very ill for California legalization in 2016. Many of the same ingredients are brewing:
  • Split reform camps; 
  • Plenty of half-baked ideas; 
  • Rookie campaign mistakes; 
  • And some rich, yet polarizing and profit-oriented patrons (Sean Parker, allegedly). 
Californians support legalization by a slim margin of 53 percent, with a +/-2% margin of error.

So really, California reformers really have no margin for error. Happy Halloween.