Recreational marijuana: Opposition campaign organizes to defeat proposal on Nov. 7

COLUMBUS, Ohio – A coalition of children’s health care, law enforcement, prosecutors, veterans and anti-marijuana groups have joined forces to try to defeat Ohio’s adult-use, recreational cannabis proposal that is aiming to be on the ballot Nov. 7.

The Just Like Alcohol proposal hasn’t yet been cleared for the ballot, having come up short in the number of required signatures needed to qualify. The campaign submitted additional signatures Aug. 3, and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose is expected to announce this week whether they collected enough valid signatures. That would clear the proposal for the November ballot.

On Tuesday, the Protect Ohio Workers and Families campaign announced it has organized to fight the legalization effort. It is made up of the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, the Ohio Adolescent Health Association, Buckeye Sheriffs Association, Ohio Association of Chiefs of Police, Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, Ohio Veterans First, Veterans Court Watch and Smart Approaches to Marijuana, which discourages marijuana usage and legalization.

Ohio children face enough risks to their health and safety today, and would be more at risk with recreational legalization, said Nick Lashutka, president and CEO of Ohio Children’s Hospital Association, in a statement.

“To help them live their healthiest lives and reach their full potential, we must be working together to reduce risks – not increasing exposure to hazardous and addictive substances like marijuana that can negatively impact their mental wellbeing, cognitive development and worse,” he said. “With the legalization of medical marijuana, our hospitals have already seen an increase in unintentional ingestions, poisonings and other incidents that are threatening children’s lives. Expanding access to marijuana across Ohio in this reckless manner will only exacerbate the problem. Ohio’s children’s hospitals vehemently oppose this proposal.”

The coalition noted that the Just Like Alcohol campaign is well-funded, having raised $3 million thus far this year for its campaign.

“The multi-billion-dollar marijuana industry is controlled by a small number of large, wealthy individuals and companies that are funding efforts to impose recreational drug use in Ohio and other states,” said Angela Phillips, who is a steering committee member for Protect Ohio Workers and Families and CEO of the Phillips Tube Group in Southwest Ohio. “This campaign will be like David vs Goliath and it won’t be easy, but it is necessary if we want to avoid the deterioration that we have seen afflict other states who were tricked into believing the marijuana lie. Recreational marijuana will forever damage Ohio, our communities, our schools and our workplaces if we let this happen here.”

Many of the organizations involved in Protect Ohio Workers and Families are experienced in politics, a reliable presence at the Ohio Statehouse with political action committees that contribute to candidates. For instance, Friends of Ohio Hospitals, a PAC that includes some children’s hospitals, spent $52,000 in last November’s election, according to campaign finance records.

In addition to Phillips, steering committee members include state Sen. Mark Romanchuk, a Richland County Republican, Jane Timken, former Ohio GOP chairman and 2022 U.S. Senate candidate, and Smart Approaches to Marijuana CEO Kevin Sabet.

The recreational marijuana proposal would allow Ohioans ages 21 and over to purchase, possess and grow marijuana. The drug would be subject to a 10% sales tax, on top of state and local sales taxes.

Laura Hancock covers state government and politics for The Plain Dealer and