In some quarters on the right, drug legalization is the cause du jour. These persons see drugs as harmless, or at least less harmful than laws against drug use, and also frequently claim that legalizing drugs will prove politically popular, particularly among younger voters. This Tuesday’s crushing defeat of Ohio’s Issue 3, which would have legalized marijuana for both medical and recreational use, calls at least some of this narrative into question.
The proponents of Issue 3 outspent opponents 10 to 1. Despite this, only 35.9% of Ohio voters backed Issue 3, and the ballot measure lost in every county in the state, getting no more than 42.4% of the vote in any county.
To be sure, not all the vote against Issue 3 reflected opposition to the legalization of marijuana. The proposal would have granted the exclusive right to cultivate marijuana in Ohio to ten landowners, who stood to reap enormous profits if the issue passed. This provision was unique and proved enormously unpopular with Ohio voters. Indeed, a separate proposal designed to prevent the creation of state-sanctioned monopolies and oligopolies, Issue 2, won 52-48%
But other parts of Issue 3 suggest why drug legalization may prove a harder sell than proponents imagine. If drugs are legalized, there is a danger that, at some point, all the resources than now go into persuading Americans to purchase all sorts of useless and even dangerous, though legal, baubles will eventually be used to persuade them to consume drugs. There will very likely be a drug lobby to fight against efforts to regulate the sales of drugs, and drug retailers who will work hard to convince consumers to try their wares. Issue 3, for example, envisioned sale of recreational marijuana at approximately 1159 locations statewide, more than the number of McDonald’s or Starbucks in Ohio. Indeed, ads for Issue 3 touted all the jobs it would have brought to Ohio, presumably from all the people growing and selling marijuana across the state. Even people who approve of the legalization of drugs in the abstract might balk at the prospect of stores selling, and advertising, marijuana in every strip mall.
Thomas Piatak is a contributing editor to Chronicles: A Magazine of American Culture. He writes from Cleveland, Ohio.