Marijuana legalization goes up in smoke after resounding loss in November 3 election

Jessica Sommerville | Online Editor

Screen Shot 2015-11-10 at 11.21.26 AMIllustration by Visual Editor Madison Krell

Pot smokers hoping to legally smoke a joint in Ohio will have to wait after Issue 3 burned to ashes on election day.

Issue 3 stood to legalize recreational and medicinal marijuana, but it granted only 10 sites the right to cultivate and sell it. An early October poll by Quinnipiac University indicated 53 percent of Ohio voters were pro-legalization, but support plummeted on November 3: 36 percent voted “Yes” while 64 percent voted “No.”

To legalize, voters also needed to reject Issue 2–a provision that forbade monopoly, and therefore Issue 3, under the Ohio constitution. The measure passed with 52 percent in favor and 48 percent against.

ResponsibleOhio, a pro-legalization political action committee, spent over $15 million on the campaign, an October 23 estimate from the Columbus Dispatch said. Executive Director Ian James said in a statement that it will continue to lobby for marijuana reform.

“We trust the voters,” James said. “We started the conversation, and we’re going to continue the conversation starting tomorrow. The status quo doesn’t work, it’s unacceptable and we’re not going away. All the things we’ve fought for are true. Ohioans still need treatment and deserve compassionate care. And our state needs the jobs and tax revenue that marijuana legalization will bring.”

Issue 3 defined the tax on marijuana as “a special flat tax of 15 percent on all gross revenue of each MGCE (Marijuana Growth, Cultivation and Extraction) facility and MPM (Marijuana Product Manufacturing)” which would be paired with a “5 percent on all gross revenue of each retail marijuana store.”

Income from such taxes would have been divided among a Municipal and Township Government Stabilization Fund, which would promote public health and safety, a Strong County Fund, to promote similar improvements on a county-level, and a Marijuana Control Commission Fund to regulate the drug as it circulated through the economy.

The debate over legalization will continue in 2016 as ballots are in the works for a minimum of 16 states, The Washington Post said. ResponsibleOhio spokesperson Faith Oltman said the organization hopes this will include Ohio.

“We are going back to the drawing board, and we are going to be looking to put an issue on the ballot in 2016,” Oltman said. “We are really trying to get input from people all over the state.”

Oltman said the goal is still to legalize both personal and medicinal marijuana all at once, which if successful, will be a first for any state. She cited the same Quinnipiac University poll as indicating that 90 percent of Ohioans favor legalization of medicinal marijuana.

The National Institute on Drug Abuse says that medicinal marijuana refers to “treating a disease or symptom with the whole unprocessed marijuana plant or its basic extracts.”

This type of treatment is not yet FDA-approved, but the scientific study of cannabinoids, or chemicals related to THC, the mind-altering ingredient in marijuana, has led to two FDA-approved pills, dronabinol and nabilone. Both are used to treat nausea in chemotherapy patients as well as increase the appetite of those who have lost weight due to AIDS.

Potential uses also include the treatment of muscle control problems caused by multiple sclerosis (MS) as well as childhood epilepsy. To confirm drug effectiveness and safety, however, many clinical trials still need to be performed, the National Institute on Drug Abuse says.

Despite support for marijuana as medicine, the backlash toward the monopoly in Issue 3 secured its downfall. Oltman said this caveat needs to be revisited in future initiatives as it “was certainly one of our biggest criticisms.”

Each state has its own approach to marijuana reform, Oltman said, which will come to light as marijuana initiatives continue nationwide.

“Every state tries to put together the proposal that it thinks will work best in that state,” Oltman said. “It’s not a great thing to have a setback, it’s hard to have a setback at any time…but we hope that other states can learn from our experience and everyone can move forward.”