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Ohio Votes on Legal Marijuana in One Week; Polls Are Close

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Ohioans will vote on a proposal to legalize marijuana one week from Tuesday, and by all accounts the race is too close to call.

The ballot measure, Issue 3, has sparked much controversy, even within the pro-legalization community. Many reform advocates are turned off by the oligopolistic control of commercial cannabis cultivation the proposal grants to ten corporations owned by the very investors who funded the ResponsibleOhio campaign that put the initiative on the ballot.

Longtime reformers are also upset about “Buddie,” the marijuana superhero mascot the campaign has used to appeal to young voters. Predictably, legalization opponents have seized on the character to bolster their claims about “Big Marijuana” companies marketing drugs to children.

Others in the pro-reform community argue that anything is better than prohibition and that a defeat for Issue 3 could mean years of continued criminalization for Ohioans who consume cannabis.

A string of recent polls show that while a majority of Ohio voters support the general concept of legalizing marijuana, they may be reluctant to give their approval to the specific provisions of Issue 3:

  • A University of Akron poll revealed that 54% of Ohio voters like the idea of legalizing and taxing marijuana sales, but that they are divided 46%-46% on Issue 3 specifically. By a margin of 53%-41%, they oppose limiting cultivation to ten facilities.
  • Quinnipiac University found that 53% of Ohio voters want to end prohibition. The poll did not ask about Issue 3 specifically.
  • A Baldwin Wallace University survey of Northeast Ohio voters showed that 55% support legalization generally but only 43% described themselves as likely to vote for Issue 3.
  • In a more hopeful sign for Issue 3 backers, WKYC and Kent State University found that 58% of the state’s voters support legalization in general and 56% plan to vote yes on the ResponsibleOhio measure.

Even if ResponsibleOhio does turn out enough supporters to pass Issue 3, the group of investors may have a hard time enacting their plan. That’s because Ohio legislators, upset about the proposed marijuana market structure, placed another measure on the ballot that would make it illegal to use the initiative process to “grant a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel.”

If both measures pass, Issue 2 could prevent all or parts of Issue 3 from taking effect, and the outcome likely wouldn’t be settled for some time while the matter is battled out in the courts. Polling shows Issue 2 garnering sizable support from voters.

If Issue 3’s legalization proposal is defeated on Election Day, prohibition advocates around the country are likely to argue that it signals a slowing of momentum for legalization efforts headed into 2016, when several additional states are expected to consider marijuana law reform measures. If that happens, legalization advocates will be tasked with making the case that Ohio voters weren’t rejecting legalization per se but were simply unable to tolerate Issue 3’s specific provisions.

Thanks to the recent polling information summarized above, reminding the press and politicians that Ohioans do in fact support legalization shouldn’t be a very difficult case to make regardless of the outcome for Issue 3.

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