Did a dumb mascot doom Ohio's pot vote?

Ohio voters bucked recent trends with a landslide vote against marijuana legalization last week, and experts say their reasons for just saying no ranged from economics to public health to Buddie, the least-popular political mascot of 2015.

A ballot issue to insert the legalization of marijuana into Ohio’s constitution was voted down 64 percent to 36 percent. More than two million Ohioans said no to the measure in an election that saw about 40 percent turnout of registered voters -- higher than in other state elections and substantially higher than in Ohio's last off-year election in 2013.

The voting down of Issue 3 was no surprise to those in tune with the political landscape in Ohio.

The most widely cited objection to Issue 3 was the creation of a growers cartel. The initiative would have granted the rights to grow and harvest marijuana to only 10 farms in the Buckeye State. The oligopoly idea turned off even supporters of legal weed, including the state's Libertarian Party, which recommended a No vote

“The biggest challenge is one word: monopoly,” political analyst and professor David Niven of the University of Cincinnati told AMI Newswire. “The way the question was presented to voters on the ballot, they literally saw the word 'monopoly' before they saw the word 'marijuana,' and it put people in a frame of mind that this was a shady business deal and not about personal liberties.”

The idea of a market monopoly “has been frightening people since the days of Theodore Roosevelt,” Niven said. “There was a big battle about how this issue would be presented on the ballot. Advocates went to court trying to erase the word monopoly, but they couldn’t do it.”

Another roadblock for Issue 3 was that some voters were unable to accept using the constitutional amendment process to legalize cannabis, said Julie Wagner Feasel of the Ohio Chamber of Commerce.

“I think that the Ohio voters really did not like that this was going to be [a] constitutional amendment. Even if they supported some form of legalization of marijuana, they didn’t like it being inserted into the state's constitution,” Feasel told AMI Newswire.

The constitutional amendment concern was not a problem for voters in other states, where initiatives governing both recreational and medical use have generally been on a winning streak since California's Prop 215 passed in the 1990s. Voters in Colorado approved Amendment 64, a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana, back in 2012.

In other polities where marijuana is now legal – Colorado, Washington, Alaska, Oregon, the District of Columbia – voters eased into the idea with baby steps. First, it was approved for medicinal purposes, later for recreational. Issue 3 attempted full legalization all at once.

“This was not about medical marijuana, and though the advocates tried to sell it for those purposes, it was really fundamentally about full legalization and I think that was a very big step for a state in the Midwest to take,” Niven said. “Ohio is not California; it’s not the hippie vanguard.”

Then there was Buddie.

Buddie – the muscular, caped, superhero with a head that looks like a marijuana bud – was designed as a mascot for Issue 3.

“I know that I would not have chosen that mascot. It was probably not the best move for that campaign,” Feasel said.

Buddie revived memories of Joe Camel for many opponents of Issue 3, who claimed the caricature was designed to appeal to children and teenagers.

On the issue of health and public safety, many medical groups, including the Ohio State Medical Association, the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association and the State Association of Behavioral Health Authority all took a strong stance against Issue 3.

“We feel there needs to be some additional gold-standard clinical research [into] the benefits of marijuana for various ailments,” Reggie Fields, spokesman for the Ohio State Medical Association, told AMI Newswire. “Until we can get some additional science, some additional clinical research behind this, we will remain opposed. Having said that, we certainly support that level of testing and that level of clinical research.”

Legal marijuana faces an uphill battle in Ohio, a Midwest conservative state with Republican control in the House, Senate and Governor’s office. Lawmakers are already planning a reprise, focusing on introducing bills for the legalization of medical marijuana. State Sens. Joe Schiavoni and Kenny Yuko, both Democrats, are pushing for its passage.

“I don’t think the defeat on Tuesday means the issue is going away,” Feasel said. “I think they’ll explore other options and that’s really what needs to happen. There needs to be further debate on the issue.”