The momentum for marijuana legalization got its mellow harshed in Ohio last night, but don’t stub out the doobie just yet. A majority of Ohioans support legalization, but not a crony-capitalist quasi-monopoly on production. Issue 3’s detractors successfully argued that defeat now was necessary for a true victory down the road, and combined with the sizable anti-legalization constituency, crushed the referendum by a nearly 2:1 margin:
Failure of the proposed state constitutional amendment followed an expensive campaign, a legal fight over its ballot wording, an investigation into petition signatures — and, predominantly, a counter campaign against a network of 10 exclusive growing sites it would have created. It was the only marijuana legalization question on the 2015 statewide ballots.
About 65 percent of voters opposed the measure, compared to 35 percent in favor. …
“Issue 3 was nothing more and nothing less than a business plan to seize control of the recreational marijuana market in Ohio,” Curt Steiner, director of Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies, said in election night remarks. “Issue 3 was designed and built primarily to garner massive and exclusive profits for a small group of self-selected wealthy investors.”
In fact, the Ohio legislature was so alarmed by the potential cartel that they placed an anti-monopoly referendum on the ballot, which passed 52/48 and would have blocked some of the provisions in Issue 3 had it passed. The anti-monopoly language is now part of the state constitution, which means any legalization effort in the future has to dump the protected production clauses that crippled its support. The Washington Post’s Christopher Ingraham calls this potentially good news for both sides:
The defeat of the measure is good news for people on both sides of the legalization debate worried about the co-option of the legalization debate by corporate interests — the threat of so-called “Big Marijuana.” In an e-mailed statement, Kevin Sabet of the anti-legalization group Project SAM said “this proves the anti-legalization movement is alive and well. It means that when people understand this is about money – not pot – they are turned off. And since all legalization efforts are essentially about money, you can be sure we’ll be reminding voters in other states about the true intentions of legalization advocates.”
For their part, legalization advocates are hoping to put the Ohio battle behind them and focus on a number of high-profile legalization measures before voters, and possibly state legislatures, next year. “This was about a flawed measure and a campaign that didn’t represent what voters want,” said Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority, a pro-legalization group. “It’s a shame Ohio voters didn’t have the opportunity to consider sensible legalization in 2015. Hopefully it’ll only be another election cycle or two until a more responsible team secures enough funding to put a better initiative on the ballot.”
He added, “Voters won’t tolerate this issue being taken over by greedy special interests. Our ongoing national movement to end marijuana prohibition is focused on civil rights, health and public safety, not profits for small groups of investors.”
It seems doubtful that one setback will kill the momentum that has been building for years for a more permissive approach to marijuana. It might make people look twice at the money that backs legalization in each state, but that’s part of the vetting process of any major referendum.
In other referendum news, the city of Portland, Maine surprisingly rejected the received progressive wisdom on minimum-wage hikes — perhaps after seeing how that progressive policy played out in Seattle:
Portland voters rejected a proposal Tuesday to dramatically increase the minimum wage in the city.
The referendum to raise the wage to $15 an hour, double the statewide minimum of $7.50, was defeated by nearly 58 percent to 42 percent. …
Scott Rousseau, owner of Play It Again Sports in Portland, fought back tears Tuesday night as he expressed his joy over the vote results. Rousseau had campaigned against the increase, saying it would have put him out of business or forced him to cut staff.
“Right now I’m feeling a huge sense of relief for every small business owner in Portland, and everyone who works for me,” he said. “I think it’s great news for the future of our city.”
The city council had already approved a hike from $7.50 to $10.10, effective next year, but the referendum would have doubled the minimum wage. It will still create issues with employers, marginal workers (especially teens), and consumers who choose to shop in the city rather than outside of it. Activists want to head off that possibility by getting a statewide increase in the minimum to $12, which will ease the pressure off of Portland but create an inflationary cycle throughout Maine. Raising labor prices without raising labor value forces employers to either reduce staff (often through automation, as has happened in Seattle) or to raise prices, which erodes buying power for consumers — especially those with the least amount of money.
For the moment, though, Portland acted rationally on employment policy. Enjoy it while it lasts.