Ohio Voters Reject Legal Pot with a 'Corporate Face'

Opponents of Issue 3 warned that the initiative would lead to a 'marijuana monopoly.' (Photo: Conor Morris/Athens News)

Ohio Voters Reject Legal Pot with a 'Corporate Face'

Ballot initiative would have legalized recreational and medical use of pot, but would have granted exclusive growing rights to wealthy investors

Ohio on Tuesday voted down a contentious marijuana legalization bill that would have allowed medical and recreational use of pot but also granted exclusive production rights to a small network of 10 growing facilities.

Opponents of Issue 3, which included some legalization advocates, warned that it would help create a "marijuana monopoly" for the wealthy investors who owned the would-be production sites and were bankrolling the measure.

"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," National Cannabis Industry Association executive director Aaron Smith said on Tuesday after the vote. "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."

Issue 3, backed by a group called ResponsibleOhio, would also have allowed adults over 21 years old to use, grow, and purchase small amounts of marijuana for recreational use and allowed others to use it medicinally. If it passed, Ohio would have become the first state in the country to end weed prohibition altogether without first legalizing medical marijuana.

But the controversy over corporate licenses was troubling enough to turn off even the staunchest advocates.

As David Graham, writing for The Atlantic, explains, "The business model was meant to serve a double purpose: It would both draw in strong monetary support for the ballot issue, and it would put a sober, corporate face on cannabis, soothing the nerves of swing-state Ohioans wary of a hippie takeover."

However, as Ohio State University law professor Douglas Berman explained to Graham, even the most ardent marijuana legalization supporters didn't buy it and came out strongly "against corporatization" of the cannabis industry.

A number of high-profile beneficiaries backed the measure, including former boy-band star Nick Lachey, fashion designer Nanette Lepore, and retired NBA player Oscar Robertson, who were reportedly asked to contribute $4 million apiece to fund the pro campaign. Supporters argued that the Marijuana Growth, Cultivation and Extraction (MGCE) facilities would help the state regulate the industry.

But recent polls indicated that warnings of an exclusive marketplace pushed voters to hold out for a more ideal legalization effort.

"I don't see the defeat of Issue 3 slowing the national momentum for ending marijuana prohibition," said Ethan Nadelmann, executive director of the Drug Policy Alliance. "Voters, including those who would like to see marijuana legally regulated and taxed, were clearly turned off by the oligopoly provision."

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