All or nothing? Ohio voters weigh in on marijuana legalization

Ohio voters face a unique proposition for marijuana legalization – make it legal for all uses or none at all.

John Minchillo/AP
Buddie, the mascot for the pro-marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio, greets college students in Oxford, Ohio, on Friday. A ballot proposal before Ohio voters would be the first in the Midwest to take marijuana use and sales from illegal to legal for both personal and medical use in a single vote.

 A Tuesday vote on marijuana in Ohio will legalize the drug for all uses or none in one go, but it is so close that it may come down to how weather impacts voter turnout.

Ohioans can vote on a measure to allow those age 21 and older to grow, possess, and use pot, making it the first Midwestern state to vote on marijuana legalization, and potentially the first state anywhere to legalize it for all uses in one go.

Supporters of legalization say Ohio could tip the scale in favor of legalization nationally and launched a $12 million campaign to make it happen. Marijuana use of all kinds is already legal in Alaska, Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and the District of Columbia (with some restrictions), but Ohio has a larger population than these states.

A legalization vote is threatened from several sides. For one thing, opponents around the state include children’s hospitals and public safety advocates. For another, a proposed law on the ballot includes a plan to nullify any law that would create a monopoly. This is also a de facto “no” vote on legalization.

The measure itself could be difficult for voters to agree with, because in addition to marking a more dramatic shift than other states that have legalized marijuana – from possession being illegal to fully legalizing medical and recreational use – the measure includes the word “monopoly.” This dooms it to failure, said Ohio State University constitutional law professor Daniel Tokaji.

The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, expressed support for the all-or-nothing bill with “some hesitancy” because of the monopoly issue. Ohio does not have enough growing sites right now to foster true competition.

Responsible Ohio, the political action group that brought the legalization plan to the ballot, has tried to counteract this, sending volunteers out to knock on a million doors before the election to urge supporters not to vote for the anti-monopoly issue.

Voters at an elementary school polling place in Cincinnati did not express excitement about the possibility of legalization; even many who voted for it expressed ambivalence.

Beth Zielenski found the prospect of legalization worrying in the current regulatory climate, she told the Associated Press. Timothy Shearer did vote for legalization, but told AP he did so because he is a “military guy” who values personal freedom, not because he wants to use marijuana. 

This report includes material from the Associated Press. 

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