Advocates behind a ballot measure to legalize marijuana in Ohio sent cease and desist letters on Thursday to local TV stations in an effort to get them to stop airing opposition ads that the cannabis campaign says are “filled with lies.”
“It’s incredibly disappointing anytime Ohio voters are lied to,” said Tom Haren, a spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, “but it’s clear our opposition sees no other way to defeat Issue 2.”
According to a copy of the letter included in a campaign press release, two television ads from the organization Weed Free Kids “contain multiple false or misleading statements about the proposed law.”
“Unlike candidate ads,” wrote lawyer Donald McTigue of Columbus-based McTigue & Colombo LLC, “organizations like ‘Weed Free Kids’ do not have a ‘right to command the use of broadcast facilities.'” And because stations aren’t required to run issue ads, the letter continues, “your station bears responsibility for its content when you do grant access.”
Citing federal regulations and case law, the letter says the stations have a duty to protect the public from false, misleading or deceptive advertising, warning that failure to do so “can be cause for the loss of a station’s license.”
“My client asks that your station cease broadcasting these ads immediately in the public’s interest in accurate discourse on the subject of the proposed law,” it says.
The yes campaign uploaded the videos to YouTube for reference.
In one, titled “Flatline,” a series of warnings flashes across the screen as the sound of an EKG machine beeps sporadically. A steady beep at the end of the spot suggests heart failure or death.
Among the alleged falsehoods in the ad are claims such as the initiative would allow “recreational marijuana sold in thousands of Ohio stores with NO protections for children.”
In another ad, “Candy,” the opposition campaign says that “stores could be flooded with candy laced with a drug that puts kids at risks”—a claim juxtaposed against a background products called Stoney Patch Kids, which resemble Sour Patch Kids candy.
The producer of those products, which are unregulated and not sold in licensed cannabis stores, was sued by the maker of Sour Patch Kids in 2019. Earlier this year, the Federal Trade Commission also sent the company a warning letter.
“Issue 2 allows for marijuana manufacturers to market their edibles as sweets as candy, without any safeguards for children,” the opposition ad claims. “That means many children will be poisoned by lookalike products.”
Included with the one-page cease and desist letters are seven pages of fact-checking notes meant to demonstrate the alleged falsehoods in the Weed Free Kids ads.
Next to the ad’s claim that there are “no protections for children” in the measure, for example, the Yes on Issue 2 campaign identifies various provisions intended to prevent impacts on kids. Among them, sales by law would only be allowed to adults 21 and older, stores would need to check customer ID prior to purchase and facilities would need to be located away from schools, playgrounds, parks and libraries.
Regulators, meanwhile, would also be able to adopt rules preventing advertisements aimed at children as well as “narrowly tailored time and place restrictions preventing advertising targeted to minors.”
Regarding a Weed Free Kids claim that marijuana edibles would look like candy and be marketed as candy, the yes campaign again pointed to language that would allow regulators to set rules “to prevent advertisements that are false, misleading, targeted to minors, promote excessive use, or that promote illegal activity.”
The campaign also noted that the state’s existing medical marijuana regulations already prohibit advertisements containing “any image bearing a resemblance to a cartoon character, fictional character whose target audience is children or youth, or pop culture icon.” Likewise, companies may not market, offer or sell apparel or other merchandise to people under 18 years old.
“Regulation does not increase youth usage. The data is clear after almost a decade of regulated adult use sales,” the document says, pointing to four published studies showing no change or even slight decreases in use of marijuana by minors and young adults following legalization.
Weed Free Kids did not immediately respond to Marijuana Moment’s emailed request for comment, but it lays out its opposition to the measure in more detail on its website.
Meanwhile, nearly three in five state voters said they support adult-use legalization, according to a survey commissioned by the campaign and published late last month.
Among opponents, the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics recently became the latest group to come out against the initiative, writing in an announcement that “legalization of marijuana in other states has been linked to increased use by young people, increased auto injuries and deaths, increased crime and increased impairment at work.” Its release includes no supporting evidence for those claims.
Other opposition groups include the Association of Health Commissioners, which represents Ohio’s 112 local health departments, as well as the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, the Adolescent Health Association, law enforcement and some business groups.
Here are the key provisions of the legalization ballot measure on the November 7 ballot:
- The initiative would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates.
- Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
- A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).
- A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”
- The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.
- The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.
- Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.
- Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”
- With respect to social equity, some advocates are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, the measure does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.
The state could see between $257 million and more than $400 million annually in tax revenue through legalization, according to a recent analysis from Ohio State University researchers.
Republicans officials in Ohio remain divided on the issue. Gov. Mike DeWine said in August that he believes “it would be a real mistake for us to have recreational marijuana,” adding that he visited Colorado following its move to legalize in 2012 and saw what he described as an “unmitigated disaster.”
Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO), who was Colorado’s governor in 2012, said last year that while he was initially concerned that legalization would encourage more use by young people, he now believes those worries were unfounded.
“I think we’ve proven and demonstrated that there is no increase in experimentation among teenagers. There is no change in frequency of use, no change in driving while high,” Hickenlooper said. “All the things we most worried about didn’t come to pass.”
One of Ohio’s Republican representatives in Congress, for his part, is in favor of the policy change. A spokesperson for Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, previously told Marijuana Moment that the representative “is supportive of the measure and plans to vote yes.”
If the initiative becomes law, that would bring the total number of states with adult-use legalization to 24.
Ohio voters rejected a 2015 measure, on a 64–36 vote, that would have amended the state’s constitution to legalize marijuana and give control of the market to a small group of producers. Organizers for the current campaign said they drew on lessons learned from that failure in crafting the current initiative.
Bipartisan Ohio lawmakers filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana in May, offering the legislature another opportunity to take the lead on the reform. But it has yet to advance, and now the stage is set for voters to make the choice.
Read the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol’s full cease and desist letter below: