Marijuana Legalization in Ohio Went Up in Smoke, But Not Because Voters Hate Pot

The Buckeye State has absolutely no chill.

In a major bummer Tuesday, Ohio voters rejected proposals that would have legalized marijuana purchase and possession for both medical and recreational use, the Associated Press reports

The measure would have permitted Ohioans over the age of 21  to carry an ounce of marijuana on their person (and keep eight ounces in their homes) and grow up to four plants per household. Ohio was the only state in 2015 with a ballot question regarding marijuana legalization, according to NBC News, and had it passed, the state would have become the fifth to legalize recreational marijuana after Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington State in the last few years. 

The vote seems to buck the national trend towards legalization — a 2014 Gallup poll showed that 58% of Americans are in favor of legalizing the drug, up from a mere 12% in the reefer-mad 1970s — but recent polls from Bowling Green State University and Quinnipiac showed voters in favor of recreational legalization. So why aren’t Ohioans leading the the charge to do away with America’s silly war on cannabis? And why wasn’t this measure a total slam dunk?

There are two related reasons. The first is sort of arcane, but not less important: Ohio’s Issue 3, the legalization measure itself, was actually designed to put wealthy campaign donors who orchestrated the legalization push in charge of growing all that sweet, sweet cannabis, which summoned shades of a corporate takeover of America’s marijuana industry and turned off both local and national legalization advocates. As Vox explains it: “The setup — a bunch of wealthy people fund a ballot initiative, then personally profit from it by owning the full rights to pot production — feels gross, even to typical supporters of legalization.”

‘Big Pot’ isn’t a new concern in the marijuana industry. It’s the one thing longtime tokers like Willie Nelson fear most about his beloved buds, and if Willie isn’t on your side (and ex-boybander Nick Lachay is, LOL), then you’re probably in trouble. Here’s a bit more about the core of the issue from Business Insider:

Embedded in the proposal was a stipulation that would have given “exclusive rights” for commercial marijuana growth, cultivation, and extraction to ten predetermined parcels of land … The problems with Issue 3 were best summed up by Case Western University School of Law professor Jonathan Adler in the Washington Post:

… Issue 3 would create a marijuana “monopoly” (actually, an oligopoly) consisting of 10 producers who would have their exclusive rights to engage in the commercial production of marijuana enshrined in the state constitution. The campaign in support of Issue 3 — so-called Responsible Ohio — is predictably supported by those who would hold these exclusive rights. This is crony capitalism at its worst.

The Ohio vote isn’t really about attitudes towards marijuana, but attitudes towards monopolies. This is perfectly exemplified, as Business Insider points out, by Cincinatti NBC affiliate WLWT5’s exit interviews with voters at the polls Tuesday:

“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.” But he said he had problems with the way the initiative is structured.

Steve Mosier, 61, of Cincinnati, also voted no because of similar concerns, even though he says he generally supports legalization.

“It’s no greater danger to society than alcohol and some other things that are legal, like cigarettes,” he said.

This monopolistic clusterfuck and resulting backlash are a nice indicator of the second, more fundamental reason this measure failed: Ohio has no chill when it comes to issues of cronyism in business and government. The state government ranks 24th out of 50 in the Center for Public Integrity’s corruption index, despite the state’s long history of producing U.S. presidents. Cronyism has derailed education reform to helped determine exactly which tradable industries get a slide of public funding. Ohio’s business tax climate ranks 39th in the country, according to the Tax Foundation. The measure’s defeat channels this political anxiety: Even with public support on a generally innocuous issue, the smug legalization advocates who pushed a terrible bill managed to get schooled by hand-wringing scaremongers whose terrifying myths have long since been debunked

Yes, there are great, chill things about Ohio; Cedar Point and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame are dope, and OSU has a great dance program.  But thanks to this measure’s failure, Ohio will be remembered in the history of marijuana policy as a state that could have pushed legalization forward in the U.S. but failed because the measure itself was so decidedly unchill that a weak group of wannabe monopolists by an got their clocks cleaned by an electorate sick of cronyism and a gaggle of furious fussbudgets. How hard is it to screw up marijuana legalization in 2015, really? You could’ve written “let’s just get high and be happy” on a notarized document and that would’ve been enough.

So congratulations, Ohio. You came, you saw, and you fucked up what should have been a slam dunk. Better luck next year.