Marijuana, maps and monopolies before Ohio voters

A first-of-its-kind marijuana legalization proposal was nearing decision time in Ohio on Tuesday, even as the effort’s opponents were placing their hopes on a separate measure aimed at nullifying the plan.

A legislative redistricting overhaul rounded out the trio of statewide ballot issues before voters. Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted said voter turnout appeared to be lower than normal based on the number of absentee ballots, but Election Day voters could help make up for it.

The marijuana question, Issue 3, would allow adults 21 and older to grow, possess and use pot recreationally and also make cannabis available for medical uses in the same vote, a unique approach nationally.

Some who voted “no” didn’t like that a small group of investors would have exclusive rights to grow pot commercially.

“I can’t believe I voted no when it was finally on the ballot,” said Marty Dvorchak, 62, of the northern Cincinnati suburb of Fairfield. “I think it’s ridiculous that marijuana is illegal.”

University of Cincinnati student Natalie McClorey, 22, said she also didn’t like the exclusive arrangement — but voted yes because it’s progress. She said she thought most students would vote the same — if they vote.

In a last-minute legal scuffle, a judge ordered polls in Cincinnati and surrounding Hamilton County to remain open for an extra 90 minutes — leading to a delay in reported results statewide.

A few precincts in southwest Ohio’s Hamilton County reported problems getting voters their ballots because of poll workers’ unfamiliarity with a new electronic check-in system being used for the first time. The marijuana legalization campaign, ResponsibleOhio, sought the extension citing those problems.

The vote was expected to be close, but potentially helped by unseasonably warm 70-degree temperatures and clear skies. All polls other than Hamilton County’s closed at 7:30 p.m., but were ordered not to publicly report results until polls closed there.

Cheryl Davis, 46, who voted in Cleveland, said she uses marijuana to help alleviate chronic pain in her back and voted in favor of legalization. Marijuana “helps me be comfortable in my daily living,” she said.

State lawmakers mounted a separate anti-monopoly initiative, Issue 2 on Tuesday’s ballot, in an effort to target the marijuana proposal’s network of 10 exclusive growing sites and undercut legalization. It would prohibit monopolies, oligopolies and cartels that deliver economic gain to individuals from being inserted into Ohio’s constitution.

If both Issue 2 and Issue 3 pass, Husted has said Issue 2 will take effect and Issue 3 won’t, but litigation is virtually assured.

Timothy Shearer, 47, said he voted yes on legalization and no on the anti-monopoly measure. He said he didn’t believe opponents’ arguments that legalization would increase risks to drug addiction, saying he believes harder drugs cause more problems.

“I’ll be honest, I’ve never been a user. I’m a military guy,” he said. “But I think you should have a right to choose.”

Beth Zielenski, 40, a West Chester mother of one, said she voted no because a lot of things need to be worked out on marijuana regulation, particularly with edible pot products, before it’s legalized.

While marijuana dominated the day, voters were also deciding Issue 1, which would overhaul the system for drawing Ohio’s 33 state Senate and 99 state House districts. By giving the minority party a larger say, the bipartisan-backed proposal is intended to reduce gerrymandering of district boundaries for partisan purposes.

Associated Press writers Dan Sewell in Cincinnati, Mark Gillispie in Cleveland and Ann Sanner in Columbus contributed to this report.