Fifty-seven percent of Ohio likely voters said in a new survey that they plan to vote yes on Issue 2, an initiative on the ballot next month that would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older. That includes a slim majority of Republicans even as GOP elected officials in the state continue to oppose the reform.
Meanwhile 35 percent of respondents said they plan to oppose the measure, while just 7 percent were undecided.
According to the poll, conducted by Baldwin Wallace University Community Research Institute (CRI) and published Tuesday, the reform had majority support among Democrats (66.4 percent), independents (58.6 percent) and Republicans (50.4 percent), as well as across urban (64.6 percent), suburban (57.3 percent) and rural (53.1 percent) voters. Both women (55.4 percent) and men (59.3 percent) said they support the policy change.
In fact, self-identified conservatives were the only demographic group identified by the survey with majority opposition to Issue 2, with 50.1 percent of them planning to vote no. Moderates were 61.7 percent in support, while 72.6 percent of liberals plan to vote yes.
Issue 2 also had support from pluralities of voters 50 and older (46.8 percent yes, 45.0 percent no) as well as evangelical voters (46.9 percent yes, 46.3 percent no), although the margin of error for likely voter responses was up to 4 percent.
Notably, 70.3 percent of parents said they plan to support legalization compared to 52.1 percent of people without children.
The poll also found majority support for a separate initiative on abortion rights that will appear on the November 7 ballot alongside the cannabis reform proposal.
“The majorities of respondents in these demographics favoring Issue 1 and Issue 2 indicate a strong likelihood of a majority vote for both ballot issues in November,” said Tom Sutton, a political science professor and CRI’s director.
Curious about what's on Ohio voters' minds? Dive into the latest findings from the Ohio Pulse Poll by BW's Community Research Institute! 🤔🗳️🐝 https://t.co/pzNyIGwQkM
— Baldwin Wallace University (@BaldwinWallace) October 18, 2023
Among racial groups, white voters were the least likely to support Issue 2, with 54.9 percent of those respondents saying they would vote for the measure. Support was stronger among Black voters (75.0 percent) and those who identified as “something else” (63.6 percent).
Just under half (44.9 percent) of those surveyed said they plan to vote early, while 51.9 percent said they’ll vote in person on Election Day. Early voting in the state began on October 11.
The election is expected to draw sizable turnout despite being an off year.
Both marijuana and abortion, Sutton said, “are personal for many Ohioans, which means that we can expect voter turnout will be much higher than usual for an off-year election only involving voting for local offices.”
Of respondents who said they’re certain to vote and also oppose Issue 2’s adult-use legalization, a sizable majority (61.6 percent) nevertheless said they support continuing to make medical cannabis legally available under the state’s current program. No demographic group identified by the survey had majority opposition to legal medical marijuana.
The results of the survey are consistent with a poll conducted in mid-August by FM3 Research on behalf of the organization behind Issue 2, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. In that survey, 55 percent of respondents said they “definitely” or “probably” would vote yes on the legalization initiative, while about 34 percent “definitely” or “probably” would oppose it. About 11 percent were undecided.
The FM3 report said those findings were “remarkably consistent” with other publicly released polls on legalization, specifically those by Fallon Research in August and Suffolk University in July, which also showed 59 percent support for the policy change.
Public sentiment has also generally held steady over time, with 57 percent support in 2019, 61 percent support in 2020 and 63 percent support in 2022, it said.
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 Ohio Ballot Board approved summary language for the legalization measure in August.
If approved, legalization could bring in $404 million in annual tax revenue for the state, according to an analysis by researchers at Ohio State University.
Meanwhile, Ohio’s Republican-controlled Senate is urging voters to reject the marijuana measure. Last week the body passed a resolution saying the proposal “does not serve the best interests of the people of Ohio, will bring unacceptable threats and risks to the health of all Ohioans, especially children, will create dangers in the workplace and unacceptable challenges and costs to employers, will make Ohio’s roads more dangerous, will impose significant new, unfunded costs to Ohio’s public social services, and serves only to advance the financial interests of the commercial marijuana industry and its investors.”
If the measure does pass, Senate President Matt Huffman (R) also said last week, it’s “coming right back before this body” for lawmakers to amend. Huffman later clarified that he wouldn’t seek to repeal the legalization plan entirely but would instead “advocate for reviewing it and repealing things or changing things that are in it.”
A number of Ohio lawmakers said last month that they doubted the legislature would seek to repeal a voter-passed legalization law. “There are not a majority of legislators in both chambers that would be pro-repeal,” Rep. Ron Ferguson (R) told The Dispatch. “That’s definitely not the case. You would have no Democrats, and there are not enough Republicans to put them in the top.”
Both sides of the campaign have been stepping up messaging and get-out-the-vote efforts as the election draws nearer. Earlier this month, the yes campaign sent cease and desist letters to TV stations airing what organizers called opposition advertisements “filled with lies.” And the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol put out a pro-Issue 2 election ad of its own.
Attorney General Dave Yost (R), meanwhile, published an analysis of the initiative that he said is meant to provide voters with “vital clarity and transparency” amid a campaign that has seen “inflamed and inaccurate” rhetoric.
Despite the GOP-led resolution, other Republicans officials in Ohio remain divided on the issue. Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said in August, for example, 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 came to believe 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.”
Unlike the top state Republican lawmakers, U.S. Rep Dave Joyce (R-OH), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said last month that he’ll be voting in favor of the initiative in November. And he encouraged “all Ohio voters to participate and make their voices heard on this important issue.”
If the initiative becomes law, it 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.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.