“ResponsibleOhio misunderstood that there is dramatic support, not just among hippies, to say enough is enough for marijuana prohibition,” said Berman, who advised ResponsibleOhio. Meanwhile, they believed they could take for granted the support of marijuana advocates, failing to see “that hippies would be against corporatization.”
As a result, the measure proved divisive even among the most fervent advocates of marijuana legalization. The Drug Policy Alliance and the Marijuana Policy Project both pointedly abstained from endorsing the measure, while NORML—the O.G. of the cannabis community—offered a tepid endorsement, registering its unease about the monopoly. (ResponsibleOhio’s investors included Nick Lachey, formerly of the boy band 98 Degrees, as well as members of the Taft family, long influential in Ohio Republican politics.)
Polling ahead of Election Day showed a close split on the measure. A majority of respondents said both that legalization was a good idea and that the monopoly was a bad idea in a University of Akron survey, leading the pollsters to conclude that the outcome of the vote would depend on which factor voters ended up prioritizing.
Wittingly or not, by rejecting ResponsibleOhio’s proposal, Buckeye State voters aligned themselves with the concerns of some of the leading scholars of marijuana legalization. In a pair of features for Washington Monthly last year, Mark Kleiman of UCLA made a case for government control, as in Washington state, while Jonathan Caulkins of Carnegie Mellon laid out an argument against big corporations cornering the market—as with tobacco.
In a curious turn, the success of ResponsibleOhio in getting Issue 3 on the ballot led to a somewhat hasty attempt to block it. The state legislature managed to place a separate ballot measure that asked voters to bar the granting of monopoly provisions to any economic interest. That issue was set to pass Tuesday night. Analysis ahead of time wondered what might happen if Ohioans voted both to legalize marijuana through a monopoly but also to ban monopolies. Which constitutional amendment would take precedence? Might it even produce a case in which legalization stood but the monopoly ended up dissolved?
That conflict didn't materialize, but the legislature’s decision to pursue a ban on monopolies is actually a hopeful sign for cannabis activists, Berman said—if not for cannabusiness.
“That reinforces my sense that actually it’s very hard to defend prohibition on the merits, but it’s much easier to attack any particular plan to get away from prohibition,” Berman said. “To me, the reform community has to be ecstatic to see that even in a purple state like Ohio, the advocacy against reform wasn’t ‘Marijuana is this evil weed.’ It was, ‘Don’t trust those monopolists to legalize weed.’”