CLEVELAND — Opponents of a voter initiative that would have legalized marijuana in Ohio celebrated their crushing victory on Wednesday as advocates of legalization said they see a better chance for victory in five other states next year.
Marijuana legalization in Ohio won only 36 percent of the vote on Tuesday, failing even in large urban areas and areas with large college populations.
Supporters claimed they were not surprised by the rejection of a ballot measure that would have allowed both recreational and medical use of the drug. Some critics blamed the advocates for pushing too far too fast, while also working to create an economic monopoly around production of the drug that many found objectionable.
“We realized the language was not to the liking of Ohio voters,” Ian James, executive director of Responsible Ohio, which backed the failed Issue 3 ballot. The group plans a reworked measure next year.
Voters instead passed a rival measure that nullifies legislation that creates a monopoly. Turnout was low, with 42 percent of registered voters going to the polls.
Calvina Fay, executive director of Drug Free America Foundation, acknowledged the role that the wording of Issue 3 had in its defeat.
“Voters in Ohio wisely rejected a big marijuana monopoly, while at the same time protecting young residents from being subjected to the marketing and commercialization that would be aimed at promoting the use of a harmful substance,” Fay said.
Failure in Ohio hasn’t dissuaded supporters of legalized marijuana from envisioning a better outcome next year, when a presidential election will bring out a higher number of voters in at least five other states.
Those measures also won’t suffer from the same market restrictions that hamstrung the Ohio effort, advocates said.
“It’s pretty obvious that the outcome in Ohio does not reflect where the nation stands or the direction in which it is heading when it comes to marijuana policy,” said Mason Tvert, director of communications with the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project.
“When voters in Nevada or Massachusetts get to the ballot box one year from now, they are not going to be thinking about what happened in Ohio a year earlier,” he added. “They are going to be thinking about the problems marijuana prohibition has caused their states for so many years and the benefits of replacing it with a more sensible system.”
The group had neither supported nor opposed the Ohio ballot initiative.
Nevada will vote on recreational use next November. Similar measures are expected to qualify for ballots in Arizona, California, Maine and Massachusetts, according to the Marijuana Policy Project.
National Cannabis Industry Association Executive Director Aaron Smith said a foundation has been laid for a 2016 effort that would “put forward a more common-sense initiative and have a major impact on the presidential conversation in the process.”
Ohio, considered a bellwether politically because the presidential candidate who wins that state often captures the election, would have been the first Midwest state to legalize recreational marijuana, joining Oregon, Washington, Alaska, Colorado and the District of Columbia. About two dozen states permit medical use.
While polls showed over half of Ohio voters approved of legalizing marijuana for personal and medical use, the state measure was criticized for limiting commercial cultivation to only 10 predetermined producers who were the ballot measure’s main backers, analysts said.
“It’s clear Americans want legal marijuana, but most want a free market model,” said Danielle Keane, political director for NORML, which advocates for marijuana legalization.