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Ohio’s Marijuana Legalization Campaign Draws On Lessons Learned From 2015 Initiative That Voters Rejected



“We are not a monopoly-type framework… We’re not going to have any mascots.”

By Megan Henry, Ohio Capital Journal

Ohio voters will once again have the chance to legalize marijuana on November 7—eight years after Ohioans overwhelmingly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment that would have made cannabis legal.

But there are some key differences between the two.

Issue 3 in 2015 was a proposed constitutional amendment and today’s Issue 2 is a citizen-initiated statue, or law.

“Because of that, it does allow the legislature significantly more leeway to be able to change the details of the law with further legislation,” said Morgan Fox, political director for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.

Political action committee ResponsibleOhio spent $21.5 million on the 2015 Issue 3 campaign, which was soundly defeated 64 percent to 36 percent.

For this year’s election, Issue 2 would legalize and regulate the cultivation, manufacturing, testing and the sale of marijuana to Ohioans 21 and up. It would also legalize home grow for Ohioans 21 and up with a limit of six plants per person and 12 plants per residence and impose a 10 percent tax at the point of sale for each transaction.

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is behind this year’s ballot initiative.

The oligopoly of Issue 3

Another major difference between the two is the oligopoly—essentially a marijuana monopoly—that the defeated Issue 3 would have created. It would have granted “exclusive rights” for commercial marijuana growth, cultivation and extraction to ten predetermined parcels of land.

“That absolutely rubbed people the wrong way, even supporters of legalization,” Fox said.

Don Wirtshafter, an Athens attorney who curates the Cannabis Museum in Ohio and supports marijuana legalization, calls himself one of the most vocal opponents of the failed Issue 3.

“2015 was a power play by basically one group of financiers who created 10 number corporations and the initiative would have given those anonymous corporations being powered by anonymous money the monopoly on growing and selling cannabis in Ohio,” he said.

Wirtshafter plans on voting yes on this year’s effort to legalize marijuana, going “from being a vocal naysayer to an enthusiastic yes voter.”

While marijuana legalization failed in 2015, Ohioans passed a constitutional amendment during the same election that prohibits the establishment of a “monopoly, oligopoly or cartel” in the state’s constitution.

“We couldn’t be more different than the 2015 constitutional amendment,” said Tom Haren, a spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol. “We are not a monopoly-type framework. We are building off an existing medical marijuana infrastructure that already has hundreds of licenses.”

Existing medical marijuana cultivators and dispensaries would have the ability to obtain an adult-use license if voters approve legalization.


2015’s effort to legalize marijuana included Buddie the mascot, who looked like a superhero and had a marijuana bud for a head.

Buddie was supposed to drum up support from college students, but instead drew criticism from child advocates who worried the marketing was targeting kids.

“We’re not going to have any mascots,” Haren said.

What’s changed since 2015?

A lot has happened in the marijuana landscape since 2015.

Only four states had legalized recreational marijuana at the time—Alaska, Colorado, Oregon and Washington. Today, 23 states and Washington D.C. have legalized the recreational use and sale of cannabis.

Ohio legalized medical marijuana in 2016 and the first dispensary opened in 2019. 101 dispensaries have received certificates of operation and 34 have active provisional dispensary licenses as of August 24, according to the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program.

“2015 was a lifetime ago in cannabis policy and since then we have seen states do it successfully, some better than others, but we’ve seen that our medical marijuana program has been successful,” Haren said.

Twenty-three cultivators in Ohio have received Level I provisional licenses and 21 have received certificates of operation. Fourteen have received Level II provisional licenses and 13 have received certificates of operation.

There have been 800,682 medical marijuana patient recommendations (a patient can have more than one recommendation), 384,705 patients have registered and 178,709 patients have both an active registration and an active recommendation, as of July 31.

Marijuana polling

A July Suffolk University/USA Today poll shows 59 percent of Ohio voters support Ohioans 21 and older buying and possessing marijuana. It showed 77 percent of Democrats, 63 percent of independents and 40 percent of Republicans support the issue.

The Suffolk University/USA Today poll surveyed 500 registered Ohio voters over the phone. Their margin of error is +/- 4.4 percentage points.

“The biggest contrast is that we are going to pass on the ballot in November,” Haren said.

This story was first published by the Ohio Capital Journal.

A Majority Of Ohio Voters—Including Most Republicans—Support Marijuana Legalization Initiative On November Ballot, New Survey Finds

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