Pubdate: Fri, 13 Nov 2015
Source: Plain Dealer, The (Cleveland, OH)
Copyright: 2015 The Plain Dealer
Note: priority given to local letter writers
Author: Brent Larkin, Northeast Ohio Media Group


Only "a meteor striking the earth" would prevent passage of the 
ballot issue to legalize marijuana in Ohio. -- Ian James, campaign 
manager for State Issue 3, in a television interview in Columbus.

Four days later, it struck.

Among its victims were James, who lost every shred of credibility he 
ever had, and a small group of rich investors whose greed got in the 
way of their common sense.

Fast forward about 85 years.

At the dawn of the 22nd century, some historians will examine in 
detail the best and worst political campaigns of the past 100 years.

When they do, many will be drawn to the year 2015 in Ohio.

And those historians will conclude that, from start to finish, there 
may have been no worse campaign in the entire century than the 
horribly conceived and executed idea to legalize recreational 
marijuana in Ohio.

That research will find that in 2015, a misnamed group called 
ResponsibleOhio asked voters to sanction an obscene abuse of the 
constitutional process designed to empower the electorate with the 
right to implement public policy.

And after studying the campaigns waged for and against Issue 3, those 
historians will conclude the get-richer-quick investors might as well 
have flushed their $25 million down a toilet.

Forget those public polls -- poorly designed garbage conducted by a 
couple of Ohio's taxpayer-financed universities. And ignore James' 
Nov. 2 prediction that he was "98.3 percent certain" Issue 3 would pass.

By Election Day, not a single astute political insider in Ohio 
thought for a moment Issue 3 would come anywhere close to passing. 
The 88-county destruction that followed only confirmed what private 
polls had been showing for weeks: that being outspent by a margin of 
about 12-to-1 proved only a minor inconvenience to the disciplined 
campaign against Issue 3 -- a campaign that methodically destroyed 
every argument offered by the marijuana group's bumbling supporters.

In fact, by late August, private polling done by Issue 3's opponents, 
conducted by nationally respected pollster Neil Newhouse, showed 
support for the ballot measure plummeting to below 40 percent.

Not once did the (Ir)ResponsibleOhio give voters a compelling reason 
to vote "yes."

One day, the erratic campaign promised tax windfalls. The next it 
tried to disguise its greed as a medical marijuana initiative. It 
promised jobs, laughingly. And it bragged about sending the pro-pot 
Buddie mascot to college campuses in a pathetic and failed attempt to 
energize young voters.

Contrast (Ir)ResponsibleOhio's abominable campaign with the 
underfunded but disciplined and bipartisan effort run by longtime 
Republican strategist Curt Steiner. The campaign that crushed Issue 3 
relentlessly focused on three things: It was a monopoly that would 
use the constitution to make rich people richer. It would harm 
children. Finally, everyone was against it -- with "everyone" defined 
as educators, business leaders, child advocates, addiction experts, 
newspapers, religious leaders and good-government groups.

"It was an unsavory abuse of the ballot issue process," Steiner said 
of Issue 3. "It was about greed, not good public policy .... All the 
advertising and direct mail (done by proponents) just underscored 
their ill-gotten money. Their motives were impugned and their 
credibility was shot."

Assuming they ever had any.

The aftermath has been brutal to those who wanted to use the 
constitution as an ATM. They've been the butt of jokes from 
late-night television hosts, ridiculed by every media outlet in the state.

They've even been ripped to shreds by the leader of the National 
Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), the nation's 
oldest and best-known legalization group.

NORML "begrudgingly" endorsed Issue 3, but in a piece that appeared 
on the group's website after the election, founder Keith Stroup 
wrote, "Responsible Ohio had this plan to legalize marijuana and get 
rich at the same time, and they were simply not interested in 
learning from the past, or even consulting with others who had far 
more experience in running marijuana-related initiatives .... Issue 3 
will forever be a case study for how NOT to run a marijuana initiative."

In an interview, Stroup worried that James and his Ohio conspirators 
dealt a setback to an idea that had been gaining traction across the country.

"We've been on a roll, obviously," said Stroup. "So it would be 
foolish to say it (the Ohio loss) doesn't do any harm."

Nevertheless, James seemed unaffected by the meteor that demolished 
his reputation.

"It's not over and done," he told Crain's Cleveland Business. "There 
is a way forward."

Not for him.

Brent Larkin was The Plain Dealer's editorial director from 1991 
until his retirement in 2009.
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