On Tuesday, Ohioans chose not to adopt Issue 3, which would have legalized the recreational sale of marijuana in the state. The ballot initiative had ten major funders (former 98 Degrees star Nick Lachey among them) and included language that limited cultivation to their own companies.

Despite widespread support for ending marijuana prohibition in Ohio and nationwide, the measure faced major opposition and was decisively defeated.

Some opposition is to to be expected. The state legalization efforts in Colorado, Alaska, and Oregon faced strong opposition from opponents citing community health and safety as their main argument. They claimed that marijuana legalization would increase drug use among kids and implored voters to “THINK OF THE CHILDREN!”

Issue 3’s opponents, however, were different. They weren’t called “Protecting Children from Marijuana” or something else implying that marijuana itself was dangerous. The main opposition group was called Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies, indicating that their problem wasn’t marijuana itself but the oligopoly that would be created as a result of Issue 3.

Although no major marijuana advocacy organizations opposed the measure, most of them were neutral or only vaguely supportive. Betty Aldworth, the executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP), wrote that the organization chose to remain neutral on Issue 3, in part, because “an oligopoly controlled by 10 companies with opaque ownership structures designed to obstruct investigation is not likely to be accountable, transparent, nor particularly good examples of integrity.”

Tom Angell, director of Marijuana Majority, said of Issue 3, “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.”

All this makes one thing very clear: Voters want to legalize marijuana to improve their communities, not to give the government power to squash competition. A free market in marijuana – or at least as free as practically possible – is the best way for legalization advocates to approach the issue with voters.

At least five states are poised to legalize marijuana next year. While none of those initiatives include the protectionist language that plagued Issue 3, only four states that have legalized marijuana for nonmedical purposes so far and – with 46 states to go  – marijuana activists would be wise to learn from the Ohio campaign’s mistakes.

This was originally written by Students For Liberty blog team member, Tim Murphy. 

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