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Ohio Rejects Marijuana Legalization

| published November 4, 2015 |

By Thursday Review staff

Ohio voters this week rejected a proposal which would have made it legal for companies to grow and sell marijuana for medical and recreational purposes.

The vote came after six weeks or more of controversy over how companies would be licensed to grow and distribute the herb and amid accusations that the ballot measure would have essentially used state money and sanctions to empower a handful of private companies to profit from the sale of pot.

There had also been a fierce legal fight over not only the way the law was written—along with the confusing loopholes and complex variables it would have created—but even over the validity of the signatures which were required under Ohio law to get the measure to the ballot.

Ohio’s vote came amid a growing national interest in the legalization of marijuana—still illegal at the federal level and under most federal guidelines—but now available legally in several states for recreational and medical use. Many states are watching Colorado, Oregon and Washington closely, where marijuana is already legal. Last year Florida voters rejected a similar proposal amid concerns that the legislation’s wording contained too many loopholes for abuse, criminal activity and fraud.

The statewide referendum, which was called Issue 3, if it had passed, would have made it legal for individuals to grow pot in limited quantities in their homes or on their private property. But it would have also sanctioned a consortium of ten major growing facilities—business operations which would have, in effect, been authorized to profit exclusively from the production, sale and distribution or marijuana in a controlled and taxed marketplace. Individuals would not been allowed to sell or distribute their own marijuana, only the ten sanctioned companies.

This arrangement led to accusations that the state was collaborating in a monopolistic business venture which would have, in the best case, made multimillionaires out of a few dozen producer-distributors while effectively criminalizing small competitors. Supporters of the measure said that the closely-managed, state-sanctioned system was necessary to insure tight control over the tax dollars which would have flowed into Ohio’s coffers.

Supporters of the measure spent more than $12.5 million of television, print and internet advertising—the most ever spent nationally on a statewide campaign by advocates of legal pot. Opponents, too, were well-organized, and millions more money was spent by a coalition of businesses, medical groups and individuals—including groups representing Ohio farmers and dairy producers—to persuade Ohio voters to reject the ballot initiative.

An investigation is under way to determine if the signature process—required to get the measure onto the ballot for the November 3 election—was legitimate. Critics of the proposed bill say that there was widespread fraud in the campaign to get enough signatures to place the measure on the ballot. Discrepancies exist between the hand-signed hard copies submitted to the state, and the official number of signatures submitted electronically—and in widely disseminated media and press reports—by the backers of the measure, a group called Responsible Ohio.

A special prosecutor was appointed during the summer to investigate whether voter fraud was committed. At least 4,300 signatures were tossed out as illegal by country voter registrars, which, under state law must reject any signatures collected by “paid” signature collectors or firms. Others were rejected because information was missing or left blank.

The measure, if it had passed, would have allowed anyone age 21 and older to use marijuana, and for individual to grow small quantities of marijuana in their home or on their property.

Related Thursday Review articles:

Victor Licata's Strange Legacy; Earl Perkins, features writer; Thursday Review; May 30, 2014.

Florida's Anti-Tobacco Verdict; Earl Perkins, features writer; Thursday Review; May 30, 2014.