While cannabis legalization for both medicinal and recreational adult-use continues to gain momentum across the country, on Nov. 3, Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected a measure intended to legalize both recreational and medicinal use of cannabis.
Although detractors consider this a victory and an indication the rest of the country will not likely follow the lead of Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska to repeal legislation that criminalizes the use of marijuana, the fact remains that a majority of Ohioans, more than 80 percent support the use of medicinal marijuana, and that a smaller majority continue to support recreational adult-use. Nonetheless, 64 percent of Ohio voters voted against the recent measure.
Voters Had Issues with Special Interest Groups
Ohio’s Issue 3, had it passed, would have created an oligopoly comprised of 10 wealthy special interest groups who sponsored the bill as a matter of self interest. It would have granted exclusive rights to commercial marijuana cultivation and distribution to these 10 companies, while fledgling cannabis entrepreneurs would have been left out in the cold.
Through ResponsibleOhio, these companies contributed $15.4 million towards the legalization effort, the majority of which came from nine investment groups. Had voters given the green light, it would have changed the Ohio state constitution to provide for an oligopoly available only to the wealthy backers of Issue 3. Many national marijuana reform groups refused to endorse the bill, and voters likely rejected the monopolistic nature of the bill, rather than saying no to legalization.
In 2012, a similar scenario took place in Oregon. Medical marijuana has been legal in the state since 1998, and the state was the first to decriminalize the possession of small amounts. Yet Oregon voters turned down an initiative to legalize recreational use of marijuana in 2012, only to do an about-face at the polls just two short years later. In the fall of 2014, Oregon voters followed Colorado and Washington’s lead by legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.
As far as the demographics of Oregon voters, little changed since 2012. The issue was that many believed Oregon’s proposed Cannabis Tax Act was a poorly drafted piece of legislation that, much like Ohio’s recent Issue 3, failed to gain the support of both voters and national marijuana activists.
Oregon’s initial rejection of legalization demonstrated that while voters may be in favor of legalizing marijuana for medicinal and recreational use, they’re not in favor of enacting bad laws. Ohio voters may have done the right thing at the polls, and anti-reform groups who consider the results of the recent election to be a victory are missing the bigger picture. Just as what happened in Oregon, Ohio voters will probably be voting on the matter at some future point, and strong indications exist that a better-crafted bill involving sensible legislation has every chance of being passed by Ohio voters.
Matt Goldberg, Esq., an Oregon-based attorney, who specializes in cannabis regulatory law notes that while recreational adult-use of cannabis is technically legal in Oregon, the state is proceeding cautiously: “As of October, while medical dispensaries are permitted to sell up to one quarter of an ounce of cannabis flower to any adult over the age of 21, they are not permitted to sell other non-flower products such as vape pens or edibles.”
Mr. Goldberg, however, said that beginning in January 2016, medical marijuana dispensaries will be able to apply for an OLCC license to sell any of their excess products into the recreational market as Oregon’s regulatory framework has the opportunity to mature.
Dispensary Compliance and Security Precautions are Critical
In Nevada, another state that legalized medical marijuana has proceeded judiciously in implementing its regulatory framework and authorizing new dispensaries to conduct business. “Essentially, the key to legalization and widespread availability of medical marijuana is to preserve the integrity of the system by ensuring dispensaries operate within our State’s strict regulatory and compliance frameworks,” according to Joel Logan, a former narcotics officer and chief operating officer of Las Vegas-based Reliance Security. “This means employing the right security resources, passing inspections and possessing the right insurance.”
Derek Connor, Esq., a Nevada attorney who represents cannabis patients and entrepreneurs believes, “While Nevada has thus far only approved a handful of dispensaries to open for business, over the next few months, I expect the number to grow closer to 50 as Nevada’s regulatory forces are able to ensure dispensaries are capable of operating compliantly.”
While cannabis legalization may have failed in Ohio, support for legalization remains strong nationally. According to the latest Gallup poll, the majority of Americans now support the legalization of marijuana. With 58 percent of the population supporting marijuana reform, the country is obviously ripe for change. As many as 11 states will be voting on this issue in 2016, including California, Massachusetts, Nevada, and Maine, and it’s likely many other states will follow the trend within the coming decade.