Pubdate: Sun, 08 Nov 2015
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2015 Associated Press
Author: John Minchillo, Associated Press


(AP) - Part herb, part biceps and all smiles, a humanoid superhero 
named Buddie is catching plenty of blame - and credit - for Ohio 
voters' rejection of legalized marijuana Tuesday.

His inventors wanted the towering bud-turned-mascot to help make Ohio 
the fifth state to allow recreational and medical pot. Backers from 
political action group ResponsibleOhio plunged the creature onto 
college campuses and for months cast his television-friendly visage 
as a prime face for their statewide drive.

The cartoonish optics infuriated both parents and longtime advocates 
for the drug, drawing quick comparisons to Joe Camel, the animated 
cigarette pitchman killed off by R.J. Reynolds in 1997. Ardent 
marijuana activists now call Buddie one of several blunders that kept 
Ohioans from passing legalization, despite growing social tolerance. 
In Pennsylvania, medical marijuana could become legal within months.

"It really just seemed to dumb down the gravity and seriousness of 
what ResponsibleOhio was trying to do. And it was just so 
stupid-looking. Someone dressed up in a muscle suit with a green 
head? Come on," said Patrick K. Nightingale, executive director at 
the Pittsburgh branch of the National Organization for the Reform of 
Marijuana Laws.

ResponsibleOhio defended Buddie as an irreverent marketing device 
meant for young adults, but said the organization will try 
collaborating with other advocates to push legalization again in 2016 
or later. With 65 percent opposed, Ohio voters knocked down the 
group's ballot item to establish a limited number of commercial 
growing sites and let more than 1,100 retailers carry pot products. 
State rules allow residents to place such referenda directly on the ballot.

Polls suggest most Ohioans want to legalize marijuana for medical and 
"personal" use, but political observers said self-serving provisions 
kept the ResponsibleOhio measure from fully tapping the enthusiasm. 
Investors behind the roughly $12 million campaign would have held 
stakes in the first 10 commercial cultivation operations, part of 
what critics dubbed a monopoly.

A competing referendum, meant to keep state ballot initiatives from 
fostering cartels, won support from more than half of voters.

"This was nothing more, nothing less than a business plan they were 
trying to put in the [state] constitution to make a lot of money for 
a few investors. That was it," said Curt Steiner, campaign director 
for Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies.

The coalition of health, business, political and other leaders waged 
a statewide campaign against what it called the "reckless" 
legalization concept, noting that marijuana-laced gummy bears, 
cookies and other sweets could be sold under the measure.

State regulators could have restricted the edibles, some of which 
might have been helpful for pediatric medical cases, said 
ResponsibleOhio spokeswoman Faith Oltman. She said the group wants to 
encourage compassionate health care and a multibillion-dollar 
industry that could spur some 30,000 jobs.

More commercial growing operations could have taken root after four 
years, a deliberate escalation from the first 10, Ms. Oltman said.

"We thought that was the best way to keep the industry well-regulated 
and move responsibly from prohibition to legalization," she said. The 
measure also would have restricted cultivation and recreational use 
to people age 21 and older.

What will Pa. do?

Whether the defeat will influence Pennsylvania's marijuana debate 
remains an open question.

A recent Quinnipiac University poll found 90 percent of 
Pennsylvanians would endorse doctor-prescribed marijuana treatments, 
and around half of that number back legalizing "personal" uses. The 
state House is trying to hammer out an agreement on a medical 
marijuana bill passed by the Senate in May, said Steve Miskin, a 
spokesman for the House Republicans.

"There's a lot of support for the concept of cannabis. When it gets 
down to the actual legislation and the details, the support shifts," 
Mr. Miskin said.

Among those details, he said, is how readily the drug should be available.

Twenty-three states allow some form of medical marijuana or its 
essences, but the rules and - and the products they permit - vary 
wildly from state to state, said Jonathan Caulkins, a public policy 
professor at Carnegie Mellon University. He said states with more 
liberal allowances, such as California, can see much higher rates of 
medicinal recommendations and misuse.

"Medical marijuana is [widespread] when it's designed to be a 
Trojan-horse loophole" leading to more thorough availability, said 
Mr. Caulkins, who specializes in drug-control strategies. He 
estimated around 95 percent of people who receive medicinal marijuana 
recommendations in California show non-specific health conditions 
that are easy to fabricate.

New York state has a much smaller market for medical uses because it 
imposes tougher standards on patients, Mr. Caulkins said.

"Truthfully, the real medical benefits of marijuana are far less than 
the debate imagines them to be," he said, calling the medical 
evidence "very, very thin."

Is it medicine?

Health groups including the Pennsylvania Medical Society have called 
for more pot research but stopped short of endorsing legalization 
measures. Skeptical lawmakers and doctors often argue such efforts 
skirt the established drug review and approval processes under the 
federal Food and Drug Administration.

"All of these ballot initiatives make an end run on that. They bypass 
that. What they're essentially saying is that if we vote for it, it's 
medicine. There's a tremendous amount of risk in that," said Eric 
Voth, chairman of the Institute on Global Drug Policy. The group is a 
division of the Drug Free America Foundation, based in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Still, political scientist Jennie Sweet-Cushman sees a 50 percent 
chance that the Pennsylvania General Assembly will pass a medical 
marijuana bill this year. Gov. Tom Wolf has welcomed the general 
idea, although observers predict slim odds for recreational legalization.

"I do think legislators are coming around to the idea that it's 
probably an inevitability, particularly for medical usage," said Ms. 
Sweet-Cushman, a faculty member at Chatham University.

The rejection of the Ohio referendum could throttle some political 
momentum, even though the decision probably won't deflate the public 
support for legalization, she said.

Activists expect Pennsylvania could feel more pressure if Ohioans 
reverse course and legalize, especially for recreational use.

Plenty of Pennsylvanians would cross state lines to buy pot in such 
close proximity, said Tom Angell, board president at the Marijuana 
Majority nonprofit group in New York.

"That is tax revenue the commonwealth of Pennsylvania would be 
missing out on," Mr. Angell said. "I don't think lawmakers there 
would want that situation to go on longer than it needed to."

The Associated Press contributed.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom