Ohio could face ‘constitutional crisis’ over marijuana issue

Prof says says issues 2 and 3 could head to court if both pass.

Ohio voters support Issue 3, the constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana use in the state, according to a new Kent State University poll. But they also support Issue 2, which would prohibit putting monopolies in the constitution and, say supporters, keep Issue 3 from going into effect if both amendments pass.

If both do pass, as the poll suggests, a “constitutional crisis” could ensue, said Ryan Claassen, associate professor in Kent State’s Department of Political Science.

The poll brought a strong reaction from a group opposing Issue 3.

Jen Detwiler, a spokeswoman for the group, which goes by the name Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies, says its own polling indicates Issue 3 would be defeated “by a wide margin.”

She noted that the Kent State poll had a relatively small sample size — 500 registered voters — said it skewed Democratic and is not reflective of who will show up on Election Day. A more representative sample, she said, would have asked the question of likely voters — those who say they plan to vote.

Voter turnout in the past 10 off-year elections have averaged about 40 percent.

Ohio State University law professor Doug Berman said ResponsibleOhio strategically picked an off-year election for the question, thinking the issue would drive reform-minded voters to the polls to ensure a win for Issue 3. Remarkably, he said, the Kent State poll shows ResponsibleOhio would also do well in a higher voter turnout scenario.

Marijuana legalization issues tend to drive a higher-than-normal voter turnout, said Berman, who has performed some paid legal work for ResponsibleOhio and teaches and blogs on marijuana legal issues. “I was shocked that the numbers are so positive for Issue 3 at this stage,” he said.

The Kent State poll, which was commissioned by WKYC-TV in Cleveland, found:

  • 84 percent of Ohioans indicated they would “support allowing adults in Ohio to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if their doctor prescribes it”;
  • 54 percent plan to vote “yes” on Issue 2 while 26 percent were undecided;
  • 56 percent plan to vote “yes” on Issue 3 while 10 percent were undecided.

The poll surveyed 500 registered voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percentage points. It is the first publicly released poll specially addressing voters’ views on Issues 2 and 3.

A Quinnipiac University poll released last week found that 90 percent of Ohio voters favor medical marijuana and 53 percent favor allowing adults to possess small amounts of pot for personal use.

Berman noted that voter opinions can shift in the final weeks of a campaign and that respondents may be hesitant to be truthful about their views on drug policy because of stigma and suspicion.

“The joy in this is we have 20 days and we’re going to find out,” he said.

The back-to-back public polls indicating support for Issue 3 could spur financial and political backing from more investors who want to get their foot in the door, according to Berman.

“Ohio is poised to be the biggest marijuana jurisdiction the world has ever known,” he said.

Not surprisingly, a spokeswoman for ResponsibleOhio embraced the poll results and said it is consistent with her group’s polling of likely voters.

“The only caveat is that Issue 2 is on a steady descent,” said the spokeswoman, Jennifer Redman.

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