Why some pro-marijuana Ohioans rejected initiative to legalize pot

For some Ohioans, the proposed initiative to legalize both recreational and medicinal marijuana in one go was about more than pot.

John Minchillo/AP
Ian James, executive director of ResponsibleOhio, a pro-marijuana legalization group, speaks to the crowd at an election night event at the Le Meridien hotel, Tuesday, in Columbus, Ohio. Voters have rejected a ballot measure that would have made Ohio the first state to make marijuana legal for both recreational and medical use in a single stroke.

Ohio voters decisively rejected the legalization of marijuana for both medical and recreational uses with a single vote, by a margin of 64 to 36 percent.

Some Ohioans who voted no did so because the legalization plan would have given exclusive growing rights to a small group of private investors, with the potential for cannabis monopolies in the Buckeye state. 

"I can't believe I voted 'no' when it was finally on the ballot," said Marty Dvorchak of the northern Cincinnati suburb of Fairfield, in an interview with The Associated Press. "I think it's ridiculous that marijuana is illegal."

The right to grow issue loomed large because the way the ballot question, labeled Issue 3, was written would have given exclusive rights to 10 facilities across the state, all owned by investors in the legalization movement.

Critics responded to the inevitable monopoly with a counter-ballot measure, Issue 2. That ballot question would nullify legalization – in the form of an amendment to the state's constitution – if it created "an economic monopoly or special privilege" for a private entity. Issue 2 was passed, preventing exclusive rights to pot growing and distribution in the state in the future. 

Ohio is often considered something of a political oracle: the presidential candidate who wins the state usually ends up in the Oval Office. The legalization of recreational pot in the swing state could "have changed the national conversation on legalization," as Gary Daniels of the Ohio American Civil Liberties Union told Reuters.

But Issue 3, while it will likely be revised for Election Day 2016, according to campaign organizers, faced other setbacks that made the 2-1 rejection less than unexpected. The ballot question faced legal scuffles over its wording, and an investigation was launched into petition signatures in favor of the proposal. Others are smarting over a costly rejection: ResponsibleOhio reportedly spent an estimated $25 million on the campaign.

Alaska, Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, as well as the District of Columbia all allow recreational pot use, and 23 states have legalized it for medical purposes. Seven more states will likely vote on recreational marijuana legalization in 2016.

Gov. John Kasich, a GOP presidential candidate, commended voters for their decision on cannabis.

"At a time when too many families are being torn apart by drug abuse, Ohioans said no to easy access to drugs and instead chose a path that helps strengthen our families and communities," he said in a statement.

Ian James, campaign director of Issue 3, told supporters at a downtown Columbus gathering that "the fight was not over," calling Tuesday's defeat "a bump in the road."

This report contains material from Reuters and The Associated Press.

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