Updated Nov. 4, 2015 at 10:00 a.m.
COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio voters rejected a ballot proposal Tuesday that would have legalized both recreational and medical marijuana in a single stroke — a vote-getting strategy that was being watched as a potential test case for the nation.
Failure of the proposed state constitutional amendment followed an expensive campaign, a legal fight over its ballot wording, an investigation into petition signatures — and, predominantly, a counter campaign against a network of 10 exclusive growing sites it would have created. It was the only marijuana legalization question on the 2015 statewide ballots.
About 65 percent of voters opposed the measure, compared to 35 percent in favor.
Issue 3 would have allowed adults 21 and older to use, purchase or grow certain amounts of marijuana and allowed others to use it as medicine. The growing facilities were to be controlled by private investors, leading opponents to label it a “marijuana monopoly.”
That featured heavily in opposition campaigns and a separate ballot question to prevent monopolies from being inserted into Ohio’s constitution for the economic benefits of a few.
Campaign director Ian James assured supporters at a downtown Columbus gathering that the fight was not over, calling Tuesday’s defeat “a bump in the road.”
“We need to not only address compassionate care for the chronically ill, we need to also remain vigilant in protecting direct democracy,” he said. “Because when the Statehouse refuses to deal with the voters, the voters have to make them deal to make sure that their voices are heard.”
After his remarks, the anti-monopoly measure passed.
Turnout was low as early presidential politicking largely overshadowed campaigns and exacerbated voter disinterest that generally accompanies an off-year election.
At an elementary school in the northern Cincinnati suburb of West Chester, Beth Zielenski, said she voted no on the marijuana question. The mother of one from West Chester cited concerns about how marijuana and edible pot products would be regulated.
Timothy Shearer, 47, said he voted for the initiative. “I don’t think it will cause more problems,” he said.
Multiple pro- and anti-legalization voices on Tuesday night acknowledged what they saw as the measure’s flaws.
“It’s a shame Ohio voters didn’t have the opportunity to consider sensible legalization in 2015,” Tom Angell, chairman of advocacy organization the Marijuana Majority, said in a statement. “When it comes to the broader debate about legalizing marijuana, the defeat of Issue 3 won’t be a case of ‘as Ohio goes, so goes the nation.’ This was about a flawed measure and a campaign that didn’t represent what voters want. Tonight’s results — and the choices that inevitably led up to them — are especially sad for Ohioans who use marijuana and will continue to be treated like criminals for no good reason. And this is particularly heartbreaking for those who need medical cannabis to treat serious ailments.”
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Added Aaron Smith, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association, also via a press release: “The people of Ohio have understandably rejected a deeply flawed, monopolistic approach to marijuana reform that failed to garner broad support from advocates or industry leaders. This debate has shown that there is a strong base of support for legalizing, taxing, and regulating marijuana. Now the foundation has been laid for a potential 2016 effort that would put forward a more common-sense initiative and have a major impact on the presidential conversation in the process.”
Kevin Sabet fronts anti-legalization organization Project Sam, and he looked at the Ohio vote as a victory.
“Issue 3 would have made a handful of rich celebrities and businesspeople even richer. Even worse, it would have put young people at risk, and Ohioans saw right through the smoke and mirrors,” Sabet said in a statement. “Tonight we’ve proven that legalization, even by popular initiative, can be stopped. And we intend to build on this momentum.”
Colorado, Washington, Oregon and Alaska, along with the District of Columbia, have legalized recreational marijuana.