On Tuesday, the voters of Ohio rejected Issue 3, the controversial bill drafted to legalize recreational marijuana. There’s an element of tragedy to this in that many of those voting against Issue 3 were proponents of marijuana legalization. However, Issue 3 came anchored with provisions that would allow an oligopoly, specifically limiting Ohio’s cannabis cultivation to 10 pre-determined grow sites. It comes as no surprise that the owners of these 10 grow sites were also the major contributors to the estimated $20 - $25 million budget supporting Issue 3. Daunted by such extreme measures being cemented into Ohio’s state constitution, voters rejected the legalization of recreational marijuana with 64% of the vote.
Recreational Marijuana at the Price of an Oligopoly
Despite fitting the definition of an oligopoly, the less correct but more well-known term “monopoly” stayed glued to Issue 3 almost from the point that ResponsibleOhio first trumpeted the initiative. While the idea of out-of-touch corporate suits hoarding the fruits of recreational marijuana didn’t sit well with liberals, many conservatives also weren’t comfortable with an oligopoly setting up shop in America’s heartland. Even Ohio’s Libertarian Party and the majority of the state’s marijuana activists voiced disapproval of Issue 3. Those who had once demanded legal recreational marijuana suddenly found themselves in the surprising situation of opposing the only viable legalization measure on the ballot.
The Limits Set by the Passing of Issue 2
Voters couldn’t have made it any clearer that the oligopoly aspect of Issue 3 was the main point with which they took issue. This was stated loud and clear with Tuesday’s passing of Issue 2, a measure specifically designed to block monopolies, oligopolies, and cartels. ResponsibleOhio tried to spin Issue 2 as a design to prevent recreational marijuana from ever being legalized but between the 52% voter support for Issue 2 and the 64% who voted against Issue 3, the claims seemed to fall on deaf ears. Issue 3 presumed that the voters’ desire for recreational marijuana would outweigh their opposition to a monopoly but this was a gross underestimation in a state still feeling the burn from the monopolization of their casino industry.
The Stumble-and-Fall of ResponsibleOhio
Perhaps Issue 3 would still have found its wings if it weren’t for a few critical missteps ResponsibleOhio took on the road to recreational marijuana legalization. While underestimating public distaste for oligopolies is chief among their mistakes, ResponsibleOhio’s decision to place Issue 3 on the ballot during an off-year election may have also dealt the initiative a mortal blow. Elections on odd-numbered years bring out fewer voters. While ResponsibleOhio reasoned that this would give Issue 3 the voters’ full attention, they neglected to note that the lower voter turn-out would dramatically reduce the youth voters vital to legalizing recreational marijuana. Likewise, all of the attention on Issue 3 allowed for any interested parties to scrutinize the measure, warts and all. ResponsibleOhio may have also been overly ambitious in trying to sell a prohibition state on full legalization of recreational marijuana with no medical marijuana middle ground. Even minor slip-ups were magnified by ResponsibleOhio’s decreasing popularity with voters. Perhaps the most ridiculous among these snafus was the unfortunate choice of the anthropomorphic marijuana bud superhero, Buddie
, as the mascot for Issue 3. The connotation of recreational marijuana being marketed to children did nothing to help ResponsibleOhio’s public image.
Despite defeat at the polls, ResponsibleOhio isn’t pausing to lick its wounds. Rather, they’ve already publicly vowed to return as soon as possible with a new proposal to legalize recreational marijuana. Co-founder of ResponsibleOhio Jimmy Gould proclaimed, “We will learn from what the voters have said tonight and we’ll come back with a plan that works for everybody.” Chances are that plan may not work for the 10 primary financial backers for Issue 3 since ResponsibleOhio’s next proposal will need to adhere to the anti-oligopoly language of Issue 2. Meanwhile, other groups such as Legalize 2016 are already in motion collecting signatures with proposals to bring recreational marijuana to the people of Ohio. Perhaps Ohio’s decision to shoot down Issue 3 was not a loss for recreational marijuana but rather a delayed win.