Ohioan voters throw their support behind abortion rights and recreational marijuana | Courthouse News Service
Tuesday, November 28, 2023
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Tuesday, November 28, 2023 | Back issues
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Ohioan voters throw their support behind abortion rights and recreational marijuana

No statewide offices were at stake this year, but the 2023 election cycle was one of the most important — and contentious — in recent Ohio history.

(CN) — Voters in Ohio Tuesday enshrined the right to an abortion in the state's Constitution and approved the legalization of recreational marijuana.

With 98% of precincts reporting as of 2:00 a.m. Eastern Time Wednesday, 56.4% of voters voted yes on Issue 1, titled a "Self-Executing Amendment Relating to Abortion and Other Reproductive Decisions." And 56.8% of voters said yes to Issue 2, to commercialize and legalize the use of cannabis.

Issue 1 is seen as a litmus test for nationwide elections in 2024. The proposed amendment to the Ohio Constitution establishes a "right to make and carry out one's own reproductive decisions," including abortion.

Democrats spent a significant amount of money in support of Issue 1; the ACLU, the Fairness Project and the Sixteen Thirty Fund contributed millions of dollars to several PACs, including Ohioans for Reproductive Freedom and Ohio Physicians for Reproductive Rights.

Political action committees in support of Issue 1 raised over $41 million, which gave them a considerable advantage over those against the amendment, including the Protect Women Ohio PAC, which raised over $26 million and received funding from various diocese in the Catholic Church.

Progressives in Ohio — which voted overwhelmingly for Donald Trump in the last presidential election — hope to convince moderate Republicans and independents to push back against the Ohio Legislature's near-total ban on abortions, which went into effect after the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade.

The state's "heartbeat bill" banned abortions after embryonic cardiac activity was detected, and while the law was put on hold and is currently being reviewed by the Ohio Supreme Court, Democrats want to enshrine the right to an abortion in the state's constitution.

In response to a poll conducted by Ohio Northern University in mid-October 52% were in support of Issue 1, with 36% against the measure and 12% undecided, although the number in support falls within the poll's 3.8% margin of error.

"The passing of Issue 1 confirmed what we knew all along — the majority of Ohioans support abortion access. We are proud to be with our allies and supporters on the just side of history, protecting reproductive freedom for current and future generations of Ohioans. Abortion is legal in Ohio. Our doors are open," Planned Parenthood of Greater Ohio said in a statement Tuesday night.

Issue 2 will legalize and tax marijuana for recreational use for individuals over the age of 21 without amending the state's constitution. Instead the Ohio Legislature would be required to pass a law and create a cannabis control division to regulate and impose a 10% tax upon the industry.

The ballot initiative gives the Republican-controlled legislature significant leeway to alter the eventual legislation, and Senate President Matt Huffman indicated in recent statements changes are likely.

"This initiated statute is coming right back before this body [and] I will advocate for reviewing it and repealing things or changing things that are in it," he said.

Deputy Director Paul Armentano of the marijuana advocacy organization NORML, urged Ohio lawmakers to honor the will of the voters following the passing of Issue 2.

“Cannabis legalization is an issue that unites Democrats, Republicans, and Independents,” Armentano said in a statement. “Ohioans have seen similar legalization laws adopted in neighboring states and they know that regulating the cannabis market is preferable to the failed policy of prohibition. It is imperative that elected officials respect the voters’ decision and implement this measure in a manner that is consistent with the sentiments of the majority of the electorate.”

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol was the driving force in support of Issue 2 and had raise just under $6 million through mid-October, including over $2.5 million in donations from the Marijuana Policy Project.

Protect Ohio Workers and Families raised just under $500,000 in an effort to defeat the ballot issue and argued "recreational marijuana legalization is meant to make a few investors rich, not to make Ohio better."

Early voting numbers were up across the state when compared with the special election held in August. Sunday was the final day of early, in-person voting. Data from the Secretary of State's office showed more than 384,000 Ohioans had submitted absentee ballots or voted in person through Oct. 26.

While turnout was expected to be high for an off-year election, one thing that remained consistent was voters' reticence to talk about their decisions outside the polls.

Courthouse News traveled to several polling locations in the Cincinnati area and requested comments from nearly two dozen voters, all of whom declined to comment. In an increasingly polarized political environment, it seems voters in the Buckeye State prefer to remain tight-lipped about their political leanings.

While Ohio remains steadfastly Republican in major elections, the two issues on this year's ballot show a growing divide between citizens and their elected representatives, one highlighted by University of Cincinnati Associate Professor David Niven in a previous interview with Courthouse News.

Niven said while Ohioans generally elect Republicans into office, those officials seem to toe a more conservative line once they are in power, one that can often be at odds with the will of the average voter.

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