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Ohio Votes Against Legalizing Marijuana

The Huffington Post The Huffington Post 4/11/2015 Mollie Reilly
ATHENA IMAGE © John Minchillo/Associated Press ATHENA IMAGE

Ohio voted Tuesday against legalizing recreational and medical marijuana via an amendment to the state's constitution, shooting down a proposal to grant a small number of wealthy investors sole permission to operate commercial marijuana farms. The AP called the vote about 30 minutes after all polls closed in the state.

The amendment sought to allow licensed individuals to possess, grow, share and cultivate up to eight ounces of marijuana and four marijuana plants in the state. Additionally, the law would have allowed anyone over the age of 21 without a license to possess up to an ounce of marijuana, and would have allowed individuals with a physician-certified medical condition to use medical cannabis.

The Ohio proposal differed from policies passed in other states, like Colorado and Washington, by creating 10 Marijuana Growth, Cultivation and Extraction facilities that would have had exclusive rights to grow plants for commercial use. The designated farms were backed by a number of notable Ohioans, including one-time boy band star Nick Lachey, fashion designer Nanette Lepore and retired NBA player Oscar Robertson.

The owners of each MGCE facility bankrolled the legalization effort -- as the Washington Post reported, each MGCE's investors were asked to put up $4 million to help fund ResponsibleOhio, the group backing the Yes on 3 effort.

This unusual aspect of the amendment gave legalization advocates pause, as it would have put the state's entire marijuana industry in the hands of a few wealthy individuals. Prominent advocacy groups like the Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project remained neutral on the measure. NORML, however, lent its support to the issue -- with caveats -- acknowledging it would be an opportunity to end marijuana prohibition in the state. 

"It was, as the saying goes, 'a bitter pill to swallow,' and the board wanted to make it clear we do not consider the Ohio proposal the best model for other states to follow," read the board's endorsement. "There are far better ways to legalize marijuana."

ResponsibleOhio, meanwhile, argued that the MGCE structure would help the state regulate the industry. They also made a case for the potential financial windfall associated with legal pot: According to the group's estimates, the marijuana industry could bring in $554 million in tax revenue annually by 2020.

“That money could be in the hands of local governments and small businesses instead of drug dealers," spokesperson Lydia Bolander said.

Law Enforcement Against Prohibition made a similar case in favor of Issue 3.

"Legalization will take money away from the cartels, provide funding for public safety and health services, and reduce the violence associated with the illegal drug market," retired Cincinnati Police Captain Howard Rahtz said in a statement for LEAP. "Passage of Issue Three puts us in charge, not the dealers"

Issue 3 was accompanied on the ballot by Issue 2, a competing measure that would prohibit creating monopolies or granting special rights via a constitutional amendment, thus blocking the marijuana amendment from going into effect. The measure, pushed by state lawmakers in an attempt to undermine Issue 3, appeared headed for approval when Issue 3's defeat was called.   

The legalization measure also faced opposition from groups traditionally opposed to legal weed efforts, such as law enforcement groups, doctors and religious leaders. 

Recent polls have indicated that a majority of Ohioans do support the idea of legalization, suggesting Issue 3's "marijuana monopoly" may have turned some voters who support legal weed against the measure. 

“When it comes to the broader debate about legalizing marijuana, the defeat of Issue 3 won’t be a case of ‘as Ohio goes, so goes the nation.'" Tom Angell, chairman of the Marijuana Majority, said in a statement. "This was about a flawed measure and a campaign that didn't represent what voters want. Tonight’s results -- and the choices that inevitably led up to them--  are especially sad for Ohioans who use marijuana and will continue to be treated like criminals for no good reason. And this is particularly heartbreaking for those who need medical cannabis to treat serious ailments."

Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington, as well as the District of Columbia currently allow the recreational use and sale of marijuana, while 23 states plus the District have legalized pot for medical use.

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