Ben Moe, OCBMAGONLINE.COM Contributor

States across the U.S. are legalizing recreational marijuana, with 10 states and Washington D.C. currently allowing the sale of recreational cannabis. In Ohio, cannabis advocates have faced an uphill climb trying to get recreational cannabis legalized. Here’s a rundown of the upcoming ballot initiative which could legalize the drug in Ohio in 2019, and the possible roadblocks that initiative might face.

Where the proposal stands now:

In the spring of 2018, Ohio Attorney General and Governor-elect Mike deWine certified an initial petition to get recreational cannabis on the 2019 ballot. The ballot initiative was then certified by the Ohio Ballot Board. Now the ballot initiative faces a crucial test period, as cannabis advocates will have to gather more than 300,000 signatures from at least 44 of Ohio’s counties in order to get the ballot into the voting booth for the November 2019 election. That number of around 300,000 votes is 10% of all the votes made in the 2014 gubernatorial election.

If the ballot initiative is able to gather the votes necessary 125 days before the election on November 5th, 2019, it will be presented to voters at the ballot box.

What exactly does the proposal entail?:

If passed, the ballot initiative would allow adults 21 and older in Ohio to grow, sell, use, and possess marijuana. Individuals who wish to set up recreational marijuana businesses would have to be Ohio residents, and the ballot initiative would not affect Ohio’s medical marijuana program. The initiative also specifies that landlords would be able to ban the use of marijuana on their properties if they chose to.

You can read the full text of the initiative here.

How did we get here?

If it makes it to the ballot box, the 2019 cannabis ballot initiative won’t be the first time Ohioans have been asked whether they want to legalize recreational cannabis. In 2015, a ballot initiative called Issue 3 proposed legalizing recreational marijuana in the state, and establishing 10 exclusive marijuana cultivation centers across the state. Issue 3 ended up not passing by a pretty large margin in the 2015 election. 63.5% of voting Ohioans rejected the initiative, while 36.35% voted for it. Here are a few reasons Issue 3 failed:

  • It would have monopolized the recreational cannabis industry, giving exclusive control of it to 10 main producers. This monopolization faced intense opposition from many organizations and contributed to the initiative’s rejection.
  • The fact that Issue 3 fell on an off-year election may have reduced support for the initiative. In the past, when recreational cannabis initiatives have fallen on major election years, more voter turnout has translated to more support for cannabis. Recreational cannabis legalization measures that passed in California, Oregon, Alaska and Washington all fell on presidential election years. Generally speaking, during major elections, more young and progressive people go out to vote, and the fact that the 2019 ballot initiative falls on an off-year election may make it more difficult to pass.
  • As part of the Issue 3 campaign, a pro-legalization group called ResponsibleOhio rolled out a mascot that in the opinion of many, backfired. Buddie the mascot drew the ire of marijuana activists, and allowed critics of Issue 3 to malign the campaign for trying to market marijuana through a playful mascot.
  • Ballot language can play a major role in whether an initiative passes or not. The Ohio Secretary of State set the language for Issue 3 and titled it: “Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes.” The title clearly labeled the initiative as a monopoly generator, likely deterring voters.


While Issue 3 didn’t win over Ohio voters, the upcoming 2019 ballot initiative does not share the same monopoly provisions or have a controversial mascot. Those factors, coupled with a more friendly national outlook toward cannabis legalization, may mean the initiative could pass.

A brief history of cannabis legalization:

There has been a sea change over the last few decades, both in Americans’ views about recreational cannabis and how many states have been willing to legalize the recreational use of the drug. In 2000, 31% of U.S. adults were for legalizing recreational marijuana. In 2017, around 60% of U.S. adults were in support of legalizing the drug for recreational use.

This swell in public opinion has coincided with several states legalizing recreational cannabis use over the last decade. In 2010, the stage was set by California Prop 19, one of the first statewide ballot measures that would have legalized cannabis. While Prop 19 wasn’t passed, four years later Californians would vote to legalize recreational cannabis.

The federal government’s stance on states legalizing marijuana has also gone through major changes. When Prop 19 was being discussed in 2010, Obama’s Attorney General Eric Holder said he would prosecute individuals involved in the marijuana business. By 2014, the Obama administration had softened its position with Obama saying he had “bigger fish to fry.”

During the 2016 election, several other states such as Maine, Massachusetts, and Nevada joined California in legalizing cannabis. While most states have opted to legalize marijuana through ballot initiatives, one state Vermont, has legalized the drug through the legislative process. The Vermont State Legislature passed a bill legalizing cannabis and Vermont’s governor Phil Scott signed the bill in January 2018.

Even more states are preparing to legalize cannabis, with New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s announcement in December that he plans to legalize recreational marijuana in New York early in 2019.

With states from coast to coast legalizing cannabis and public perception of marijuana changing at a rapid clip, the Ohio 2019 ballot initiative could very well pass. It’s fate will ultimately be determined by the work of organizers over the next months, who will have to gather hundreds of thousands of signatures, and convince Ohioans that the time for recreational cannabis in the state has come.



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