Marijuana law reform hasn’t been easy in the state of Ohio. Several failed attempts at medical marijuana legalization and one very massive defeat for recreational legalization left Ohio activists without much to celebrate going into the year 2016.
Seeing the writing on the wall, the Ohio legislature passed a limited medical cannabis law in that year, undercutting any possible attempts at medical marijuana through the ballot box. But 2016 was also the year that another strategy started to take hold in the state among activists after they saw some success the year before: decriminalization.
“After the 2015 Toledo decriminalization initiative passed, there has been an ongoing effort to decriminalize cannabis at the local level across Ohio,” Carrie Eickleberry from the Ohio Cannabis Activist Network told The Marijuana Times. “In 2016, I was able to help the leaders of the campaigns in Newark and Bellaire with both signature gathering and door-to-door canvassing. Those experiences allowed me to gain insight on what the voters want at a grassroots level. The overwhelming response was always in support; the wins at the ballot box were proof. Ohio cannabis activists have suffered many losses when it comes to statewide ballot initiatives, including those that didn’t make it to the ballot. Local decrims have proven to be an effort that activists can get behind and accomplish success.”
Decriminalization is a strategy that Carrie sees as viable as long as things are stalled on the statewide level, bolstered by decriminalization successes in places like Dayton and Norwood, OH this year. Besides, the prospect of getting things going in Columbus over the next two years likely died with the election of Mike DeWine as Governor.
“The election of Mike Dewine as Governor of the state of Ohio was not a win for cannabis – medical or recreational,” Carrie said. “Any hopes of there being positive amendments made to our medical law were washed away with his election. It will be interesting to see what his approach is towards HB 523 and whether or not he takes steps to stall the progress. As for adult-use legalization, there is zero chance the current legislature will discuss it.”
But 2020 is a short two years away, and Ohio is already being mentioned as a possible battleground for recreational legalization. And Carrie says that the chances of success in that endeavor were greatly increased by adult-use legalization passing in Ohio’s neighbor to the north, Michigan.
“I know a lot of long time Ohio cannabis activists are hoping to wake up to news of a viable, well-funded campaign to legalize adult use,” she told us. “Unfortunately, there’s not a lot we can do to increase the chances of those with funding starting a legalization campaign for Ohio. In the meantime, Ohio activists should continue to educate the public about the benefits of adult-use legalization. The more we educate, the easier it will be for voters to say yes on the ballot. I am optimistic that we will see a campaign to legalize adult use for 2020.”
If an adult-use measure does make the ballot in Ohio in 2020, it will be incessantly compared to Issue 3, the recreational measure that lost by some 30 percentage points in Ohio in 2015. Hopefully some of the lessons learned from that effort about voters in the state will be taken to heart by whoever launches an adult-use campaign in 2 years.
As a large state that allows voters to bring initiatives directly to the ballot box, Ohio is one of the last remaining big prizes for the marijuana law reform movement. Millions suffer and are considered criminals in the state every day.
Activists in Ohio still have a long way to go to rectify that, but they are well on their way.