Less than two weeks ahead of Election Day, Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R) is talking to local TV stations about his opposition to Issue 2, a ballot initiative that would legalize adult-use marijuana in the state. But newly released state data on campaign fundraising indicate that supporters have an edge, having raised nearly four times what opponents have collected.
DeWine said voters are confused about both the cannabis measure and a separate initiative, Issue 1, which would protect access to contraception, fertility treatment and abortion. He downplayed polls showing popular support for both proposals.
“These are gonna go right down to the wire,” DeWine told WLWT news, a local NBC affiliate. “I think there’s still confusion about both of them, and I think that both of these will be close.”
Asked about polls showing strong support for legalizing marijuana, the governor was dismissive.
“The old saying is, ‘the only poll that really counts is the one on Election Day,’” he said.
A recent survey of likely voters found that 57 percent supported the legalization measure, including a slim majority of Republicans. Another survey of state lawmakers found that majorities of both Democrats (63 percent) and Republicans (52 percent) expected voters to approve the measure.
DeWine’s opposition to legalizing marijuana is not new, but in the past week he’s spoken out against Issue 2 in a number of interviews.
“I don’t think the little bit of money that this will generate to the state of Ohio is worth the damage to the people of Ohio,” he told Spectrum News 1, saying that reforms could be accomplished by growing the state’s medical marijuana program instead.
Legalization through Issue 2 would likely produce around $260 million in net benefits to the state on an annual basis, according to a recently released economic report by Scioto Analysis.
“Although there is a chance the costs outweigh the benefits,” the group said, “our simulation model suggests that in 90 percent of likely scenarios, recreational marijuana legalization will have a positive net economic benefit on society.”
A separate analysis published in August by Ohio State University researchers found the change could bring in $404 million in annual tax revenue.
Meanwhile, DeWine is also attacking Issue 2 as unfair to businesses. In his WLWT interview, he said the initiative “favors certain people and says certain—people who already have a license to sell medical marijuana—it favors them over anybody else.”
That argument appears to play on concerns Ohioans had over a 2015 legalization measure that voters roundly rejected on a 64–36 vote. That plan would have given control of the market to a small group of producers, which led to many advocates holding back support for the bill. Organizers for the current campaign have said they drew on lessons learned from that failure in crafting the current initiative.
DeWine also argued in a separate WTOL interview that legalization would send the wrong message to kids.
“They see it being sold legally in their state and say, ‘well, it must, obviously marijuana must be okay,’” he said.
In terms of campaign fundraising, the yes campaign has a strong lead, fillings made by supporters and opponents on Thursday show. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has brought in nearly $1.2 million in total contributions, while the opposition Protect Ohio Workers and Families campaign has raised about a quarter of that (almost $343,000).
Local news reports point out that campaigns for and against Issue 2 have spent only a combined $1 million in the weeks so far leading up to the election—far less than campaigns have spent around Issue 1, the abortion amendment. It’s also a fraction of the nearly $20 million that business interests spent in support of the 2015 legalization measure.
On the yes side, the majority of funds—about $883,000—came from cannabis companies and their executives. Curaleaf, a New York-based multistate operator, gave $200,000, while Pittsburgh company FarmaceuticalRx donated $250,000.
Two contributions totaling $275,000 came from donors marked as “unknown,” which is not permitted under Ohio law. Campaign spokesperson Tom Haren told Marijuana Moment that those funds came from the advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project.
Haren has said the missing information was the result of a “miscommunication” among staff and will be updated.
Funders opposing Issue 2, meanwhile, include the Ohio Manufacturers Association ($101,000), a manufacturing company owner ($100,000), a nursing home advocacy group ($25,000), the D.C.-based American Jobs and Growth Fund ($50,000) as well as state Sen. George Lang (R) ($10,000).
Campaign fundraising data is not scheduled to be updated again prior to the November 7 vote.
Here are the key provisions of the legalization ballot measure on the November 7 ballot:
- The initiative would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates.
- Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
- A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).
- A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”
- The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.
- The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.
- Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.
- Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”
- With respect to social equity, some advocates are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, the measure does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.
DeWine is among a number of Republican elected officials who’ve come out strongly against cannabis legalization.
As early voting kicked off this month, the GOP-controlled Senate passed a resolution urging residents to reject measure. Despite the GOP-led resolution, other Republicans officials in Ohio remain divided on the issue.
State Sen. Mark Romachuk (R) has warned that passing Issue 2 would lead to more problems for children, on roadways and at work. “This creates challenges to maintaining safe workplaces, especially in industries that require high alertness and precision like Ohio’s manufacturing businesses,” he said, according to local media reports.
If the measure does pass, Senate President Matt Huffman (R) said earlier this month, it’s “coming right back before this body” for lawmakers to amend. Huffman later clarified that he wouldn’t seek to repeal the legalization plan entirely but would instead “advocate for reviewing it and repealing things or changing things that are in it.”
A number of Ohio lawmakers said last month that they doubted the legislature would seek to repeal a voter-passed legalization law. “There are not a majority of legislators in both chambers that would be pro-repeal,” Rep. Ron Ferguson (R) told The Dispatch. “That’s definitely not the case. You would have no Democrats, and there are not enough Republicans to put them in the top.”
Both sides of the campaign have been stepping up messaging and get-out-the-vote efforts as the election draws nearer. Earlier this month, the yes campaign sent cease and desist letters to TV stations airing what organizers called opposition advertisements “filled with lies.” And the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol put out a pro-Issue 2 election ad of its own.
Attorney General Dave Yost (R), meanwhile, published an analysis of the initiative that he said is meant to provide voters with “vital clarity and transparency” amid a campaign that has seen “inflamed and inaccurate” rhetoric.
DeWine previously said in August that he believes “it would be a real mistake for us to have recreational marijuana,” adding that he visited Colorado following its move to legalize in 2012 and saw what he described as an “unmitigated disaster.”
Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO), who was Colorado’s governor in 2012, said last year that while he was initially concerned that legalization would encourage more use by young people, he came to believe those worries were unfounded.
“I think we’ve proven and demonstrated that there is no increase in experimentation among teenagers. There is no change in frequency of use, no change in driving while high,” Hickenlooper said. “All the things we most worried about didn’t come to pass.”
Unlike the top state Republican lawmakers, U.S. Rep Dave Joyce (R-OH), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said last month that he’ll be voting in favor of the initiative in November. And he encouraged “all Ohio voters to participate and make their voices heard on this important issue.”
The Ohio Ballot Board approved summary language for the legalization measure in August.
Bipartisan Ohio lawmakers filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana in May, offering the legislature another opportunity to take the lead on the reform. But it has yet to advance, and now the stage is set for voters to make the choice.
If the initiative becomes law, it would bring the total number of states with adult-use legalization to 24.