Ohio's rejection of legal pot leaves future in question

AP News
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Posted: Nov 04, 2015 4:43 PM
Ohio's rejection of legal pot leaves future in question

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — The future of marijuana in Ohio faced an uncertain future Wednesday after the resounding defeat of an effort to legalize cannabis for both medical and recreational use in a single vote — though few believe the fight is over.

The proposal rejected by voters on Tuesday is expected to be followed in 2016 by a more conventional legalization initiative, one that doesn't give exclusive growing rights to private investors.

There's also early talk of legislative action to legalize pot for medical use only. State Attorney General Mike DeWine said in May he was studying the plausibility of a tightly crafted medical marijuana proposal.

"I think there is consensus that it's not over and done, that some type of legalization of marijuana in Ohio is still going to be a part of the public discussion," said Joe Cornely of the Ohio Farm Bureau Federation.

Farmers who would have been shut out of growing opportunities under the plan had joined business groups, children's hospitals, the state NAACP and a host of other groups in opposing the initiative brought by a group called ResponsibleOhio.

Gov. John Kasich, a Republican presidential candidate, praised voters for their decision to reject marijuana, which he said would have been bad for families.

The question failed after an expensive campaign, a legal fight over its ballot wording and an investigation launched into the proposal's petition signatures. Lawmakers also mounted a competing ballot issue aimed at nullifying it if passed.

Campaign director Ian James assured supporters at a downtown Columbus gathering that the fight was not over, calling Tuesday's defeat "a bump in the road."

Concerns about possibly creating what was dubbed "a marijuana monopoly" appeared to be the major factor in its defeat, and a leading voice in the mainstream legalization movement said that sent an important national message. Economists more likely would have considered the growing site setup an oligopoly, a not-so-voter-friendly word.

"The silver lining of the defeat is it's going to discourage anyone else from trying the oligopoly model in other states," said Ethan Nadelmann, founder and director of the Drug Policy Alliance, the nation's largest drug policy reform organization.

At least 10 other states are working on some sort of legalization initiative next year, whether for recreational or medical cannabis. In Ohio, the Cleveland-based Ohioans to End Prohibition has been working on its own hybrid plan, which leaves cannabis production to the free market.

Jacob Wagner, the group's vice president, predicted legalization proponents would unite behind the plan.

"We're very confident that yesterday's bad results for ResponsibleOhio were not a referendum on legalization in Ohio, but a rejection of the monopoly aspect," he said. "Poll after poll shows that Ohioans favor legalization."

Wagner said his campaign's first call on Wednesday was to a ResponsibleOhio investor, and he expects now that ResponsibleOhio is "dead and gone," money will begin flowing into the 2016 campaign.

Some who voted "no" on legalization confirmed their dislike that a small group of investors would have exclusive rights to grow pot commercially.

"I can't believe I voted 'no' when it was finally on the ballot," said Marty Dvorchak, 62, of the northern Cincinnati suburb of Fairfield. "I think it's ridiculous that marijuana is illegal."

A Quinnipiac University poll released last month found that 53 percent of Ohio voters supported recreational marijuana, as opposed to 44 percent who opposed it. The poll also found that 90 percent of Ohio voters supported medical marijuana, compared with 9 percent who opposed it. The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3 percentage points.