Many Eyes Are Focusing on Ohio's Marijuana Vote

With Ohio set to vote on a historic marijuana legalization initiative on Tuesday, advocates still aren't sure how to feel. That's because there is controversy over how this measure, if passed, would be carried out—and who really stands to benefit from it.

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The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) gave a halfhearted endorsement of the state's measure, and other organizations such as Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance have remained neutral. The sentiment among Ohio marijuana advocates is that any measure supporting the legalization movement is better than nothing because the illegal status of cannabis has created problems within the state’s criminal justice system.

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Still, the prospect of recreational marijuana legalization in Ohio is tempting. It could allow the state to profit from tax revenue on cannabis sales and effectively reduce the rate of incarceration for marijuana-related offenses.

The state would be the fifth to permit the cultivation and sale of pot for recreational purposes in the U.S., and as the national debate on legalization continues, Ohio's decision could represent a turning point for the marijuana movement.

Girl Smoking a Joint

A poll by the University of Akron found that, at this point, Ohioans are split (46 percent in favor, 46 percent opposed) on the issue.

Here's why Ohio's marijuana vote is a big deal.

1. If the measure passes, Ohio would be the first state to legalize recreational marijuana without first implementing a medical marijuana system.

Recreational marijuana has been legalized in Colorado, Washington, Alaska, and Oregon—but only after the states passed medical marijuana measures. Some critics say that bypassing a medical system could pose regulatory challenges—in states that only allow medical marijuana, it can be easier to hold dispensaries accountable and maintain safety standards—while others argue that the measure will serve as a more progressive model for states looking to legalize going forward. NORML explained in a statement:

"[J]ust as the victories in Washington and Colorado were especially significant because they were the first, and opened the door for serious consideration in additional states, it would be an enormous step forward politically to adopt full legalization in Ohio—a large, conservative midwestern state. "And it would suddenly put full legalization on the table for serious consideration by many other similarly situated states."

2. As a swing state, Ohio's vote could influence the national conversation on legalization.


Marijuana has become a major issue in the 2016 presidential election. John Kashich, the state's governor and a Republican candidate for president, opposes the measure. But Democratic candidates Bernie Sanders and Hillary Clinton have both voiced their support for state experimentation with legalization, with Sanders endorsing legalized marijuana nationwide.

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As a swing state, Ohio's decision could affect public perceptions about legalization because the state's political landscape is more evenly divided between Republicans and Democrats, Vox reported.

3. The measure to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio is controversial.

There was a competing measure to legalize medical marijuana in the state, but that was overtaken by ResponsibleOhio, the marijuana group behind the recreational legalization initiative. Advocates have been weary about the measure because it promises a set of wealthy investors exclusive rights to growing operations in the state.

Marijuana Plants

For a lot of people, this seems like a shady practice that benefits those whose interests in legalization might be driven by profit. Others say that it's better to legalize this way than no way at all.

If the measures passes, the law would allow for only 10 locations to grow marijuana, and they would be run by wealthy investors who have poured $20 million into the legalization campaign.

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