Ohio voters appeared to be overwhelmingly rejecting a plan to legalize marijuana Tuesday.
In the nationally watched vote on Ohio Issue 3, the measure was losing by a 2-to-1 margin with about a quarter of the state's precincts reporting. It was losing solidly in almost all of Ohio's 88 counties.
A low turnout was anticipated for the off-year, odd year election, although the potential impact of the measure called Issue 3 might have brought out voters on a clear, bright early-November day. Added drama was injected into the night when ResponsibleOhio persuaded a judge in Hamilton County to keep polls open there until 9 p.m. because of problems that voters had getting into the polling stations.
ResponsibleOhio, the private investor group that wrote and campaigned for Issue 3, planned a party at a hotel in the fashionable Short North district of Columbus to watch returns late Tuesday.
Opponents of Issue 3, who backed the competing Issue 2, gathered at the Ohio Chamber of Commerce headquarters downtown.
The opponents were hugely outspent by the backers of Issue 3 through the campaign by a factor of at least 20 to 1. ResponsibleOhio filled the airwaves with advertisements about the uses and benefits of legalized marijuana. Last week, Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters appeared in one such ad.
Issue 3 is a proposed constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana in Ohio. A yes vote would make Ohio the sixth jurisdiction in the nation to take the step, and the first state to do so without first creating a medical-marijuana program.
ResponsibleOhio spent $2 million to collect enough signatures of registered voters to put the proposal on Tuesday’s ballot. Then the organization spent another $20 million through the fall on television advertising, direct mail and a canvass that aimed to knock on a million Ohio doors by Election Day.
Issue 2 came to the ballot through the legislature, which hurriedly wrote its own proposal constitutional amendment when it appeared that ResponsibleOhio would be successful. Issue 2 would prohibit a “monopoly, oligopoly or cartel” from being written into the state’s constitution.
The biggest controversy surrounding Issue 3, aside from the question of legalizing marijuana, is its economic model: Ten properties around the state have already been selected to be the exclusive cultivation sites. Three of the properties are in Hamilton, Butler and Clermont counties.
About two dozen wealthy investors, including former pro basketball player Oscar Robertson, current NFL player Frostee Rucker, Cincinnati restaurateur and recording artist Nick Lachey, fashion designer and Ohio native Nanette Lapore and two brothers who are distant relatives of President William Howard Taft.
The economic model is called an oligopoly. The limitation on cultivation angered longtime marijuana activists in Ohio who joined their voices with Issue 2 supporters to complain that the “monopoly” of the economic plan was unfair and should not be written into the Ohio Constitution.
Issue 3 backers pointed out that the proposal would allow for cultivation to expand in 2020 if supply does not meet demand. Issue 3 would create a state regulatory agency, the Marijuana Control Commission, that would write all the rules for the new industry, from the grow site to manufacturing and testing to the retail store. Issue 3 would allow for as many as 1,150 stores across the state.
Individuals would also be able to apply for $50 annual licenses that would allow home growers to raise four flowering plants at any one time in an enclosed, locked site.
Opponents of Issue 2 cautioned that legalization would mean that children would have access not just to dried marijuana but also to foods and other products made with marijuana oil.