Perspective from Ground Zero of Ohio Marijuana Legalization Loss
“I’m Facebooking the families,” said the young lady sitting to my right at the Election Party where I was live streaming the disastrous results. “Oh my god.” She looks up at me. “I’m going to have to say goodbye to some of these families. They’re moving to Michigan. Or Colorado.”
“What? Really? Naw, man, that can’t be right,” said the middle-aged man watching me scroll through the county-by-county results. Not one above 42 percent support, last I was looking with over 70 percent of the precincts reporting. “What about Franklin? What about Cuyahoga?” Nope. No bright spot to be found.
“Our job just got harder,” said the activist leader to a dejected room full of hard-working supporters after the party back at home. “Not only did we lose legalization, but that Issue 2 means it’s going to be harder to get our next one passed.”
With 97 percent of the precincts reporting, Ohio’s marijuana legalization Issue 3 lost with 35.84 percent support. Or, to spin it one way, a nearly two-to-one defeat.
Worse, Ohio Issue 2 won with a squeaker of 51.69 percent support. That amendment introduces the Ohio Ballot Board into the process of determining which future initiatives that tax and regulate things will have to jump through the extra hoop of getting two initiatives on the ballot and both must pass.
There are plenty of post mortem articles out (I recommend Chris Ingraham, for starters) that do a great job of spinning the results of the Ohio marijuana legalization loss. There are plenty of lessons to be learned, the prime one to me being “ignore Platshorn’s Maxim at your electoral peril”.
Bobby Platshorn is the head of The Silver Tour which advocates education of seniors on marijuana legalization, for the sole reason that seniors vote. They both disproportionately oppose legalization and vote in great numbers. Especially if you decide to both base your electoral appeal on the youth vote and run your campaign in the least likely election that youth vote in, a non-presidential, non-Congressional year like 2015. (With a bud-headed superhero mascot. Seniors love that.)
I walked with a couple my age to the polling place this afternoon. I saw a few young people milling about on the streets. None were headed our way toward the polls, though. We talked to a couple of people who had voted our way.
But when we got to the polls, I saw at least a dozen people voting, a few more coming and going, and I’ll bet you even money I was the youngest person in the room (I’m 47). Mostly seniors.
Many of the criticisms that can be leveled at the campaign are easy. There are wise lessons to be learned in an ass kicking, if you swallow your pride enough to see them. That wisdom will come.
Tonight, though, I feel for the people who sacrificed in many different ways in the fight for Ohio’s first-ever shot at legalizing marijuana. I feel for the people who felt their hopes dashed in a gut punch of a defeat. I feel for the people who now face the desperate choice of remaining a criminal or leaving their home state.
Nobody said ending the drug war would be easy. It can be difficult to see with perspective following a devastating loss. I was there when Prop 19 lost in California in 2010 and when Measure 80 lost in Oregon in 2012. In each of those losses, there were lessons learned and progress made.
So, too, goes Ohio.
Ohio just became the seventh state to ever vote on marijuana legalization. California, Oregon, Washington, Nevada, Alaska, and Colorado. That’s all. Ohio just joined a very select club.
Only Washington in that club passed it on their first try; I-502 in 2012 got 55.7 percent. Alaska got 44.25 percent in 2004* and Colorado got 41.08 percent in 2006, and they both had medical marijuana on the books, like Washington. Nevada, Oregon, and California all failed twice; Nevada got 39.13 percent in 2002 and 44.08 percent in 2006. Oregon got just 26.33 percent 1986, pre-medical marijuana, and 46.58 percent in 2012, when Washington and Colorado were crushing it with over 55 percent. California got just 33.5 percent in pre-decriminalization 1972 and then 46.5 percent 2010 with Prop 19.
So, Ohio, 35.84 percent with a controversial business model, terrible public relations, confusing language and conflicting amendments, before you have medical marijuana, in an off-off election year? Bravo, you’re ahead of where California and Oregon started and three to nine points behind where Colorado, Alaska, and Nevada were just a decade ago.
Now get back to work. It might take another year or maybe another five years. Maybe ten. It won’t be easy. But working hard for a losing marijuana legalization campaign means you’ve done more to change the laws than ninety-nine percent of the people out there wishing those laws would change. It also means you’ve learned some hard lessons, made great contacts, and grown thicker skin that will serve you well for the battles to come. Processed correctly, that hurt puts a fire in your belly that fuels you to greater activism and makes that eventual victory feel really, really good.
* Alaska also lost a decriminalization measure in 2000 with a 40.88 percent vote. That dealt with age 18 and older and involved un-criminalizing a constitutional privacy right that had been criminalized, so I didn’t feel it was a great comparison to the other legalization initiatives.