The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Ohio voters support and oppose legalizing marijuana. Wait, what?

(REUTERS/Rick Wilking)

On Nov. 3, 2015, voters in Ohio will vote on two different ballot initiatives related to the legalization of marijuana. One initiative, Issue 3, was placed on the ballot by citizens and would legalize marijuana for both medical and personal use in Ohio.

The second initiative, Issue 2, was placed on the ballot by the legislature and would essentially negate Issue 3. Issue 2 would prohibit using the Ohio constitution to grant a monopoly, something the marijuana initiative does by naming only 10 sites for commercial cultivation of marijuana. (Fun fact: one parcel is partly owned by Nick Lachet of 98 Degrees and Jessica Simpson fame.) Issue 2 also contains a provision that would specifically prohibit Issue 3 from taking effect.

So clearly Ohio voters confront a confusing choice. New polling data suggests many are still figuring it out. Somehow, a majority of registered voters supports the legalization initaitive, and a majority supports the initiative that would prohibit legalization from taking effect.

The poll was conducted by me and two other professors from Kent State University, Greg Gibson and Anthony Vander Horst, teaming with the Cleveland NBC affiliate, WKYC. The poll sampled 515 registered voters in Ohio and has a margin of error of plus or minus 4 percent.

Consistent with previous polling, our poll found that a majority of Ohioans (84 percent) support legalizing marijuana for medical purposes. A smaller majority (58 percent) supports legalizing it for personal use.

The poll also presented voters with summaries of the ballot issues using the language that will appear on their actual ballots and then asked explicitly how they would vote on each initiative.

The ballot wording frames the initiatives around the issue of monopoly. However, this appeared not to affect support for legalization: the percent supporting legalization via Issue 3 (55 percent) is very close to the percent that support legalizing marijuana for recreational use.

However, attempts to frame legalization around the use of marijuana for medical purposes also seem to have failed. Support for the initiative is lower than support for medical marijuana in the abstract.

Now we get to the puzzling part: a majority also supports Issue 2. And even more puzzling: voters’ preferences on each initiative really aren’t that strongly related, even though one initiative explicitly nullifies the other. About 56 percent of voters that plan to vote yes on Issue 2 also plan to vote yes for Issue 3.

So what is likely to happen on Election Day? Turnout in recent off-year elections has varied from 31 percent in 2007 to 45 percent in 2009 to 47 percent in 2011. Off-year electorates are, unsurprisingly, older and more Republican than the entire eligible electorate.

Our poll finds that these voters are less likely to support legalization via Issue 3, but not necessarily more likely to support Issue 2. In short, it is probably too close to call whether voters will legalize marijuana on Nov. 3.

If both initiatives do pass, the only certainty is litigation. The Ohio Constitution states that when conflicting initiatives pass, the one with the most votes prevails. However, the Constitution also enacts legislature-sponsored amendments differently than citizen-sponsored amendments. The latter become law immediately, whereas the former are not law until 30 days have passed.

Stay tuned.

Ryan Claassen is a professor of political science at Kent State University. For the full report, question wording, toplines, and additional information about the survey, check out