VOTE like your life depends on it, because it just might
In case you haven’t noticed, there is an election being held in November – November 8th to be exact – and you must participate if eligible. The stakes are high.
You say, there’s nothing in this election for me. Do you use cannabis even occasionally? Do you or a family member have a medical condition? Do you know someone who has been incarcerated for marijuana, or someone who has lost privileges because of a cannabis conviction? Do you believe in social justice? Do you want a vibrant economy? I could go on, but you get point. The herb in its many forms has become an important issue in the lives of many Americans.
This is a primer on canna-candidates and canna-voting in Ohio. The where, why, who and how of this process. Let’s get started. Sources are linked. See the canna-candidate list here.
How to vote: Make a plan.
- Find out if you are eligible. You must meet certain criteria to vote in Ohio: 18+ years old, Ohio resident for at least 30 days and not incarcerated, among others.
- Check your voter registration with the Ohio Secretary of State (SoS). Click here. You can register to vote, update your address or just make sure your information is correct. The registration deadline for the upcoming fall election was 10/11/2022. Even though the deadline has passed, don’t be dissuaded from registering and voting. Numerous elections in the future will require your participation. Here’s a FAQ on voting from the SoS.
- Find out where you vote. Polling places can change from election to election. Again, the Secretary of State provides this information here. See the clickable map or choose the Ohio county in which you reside.
- Make your plans before you vote. This not only means the date/time/polling place, but also who and what you’re vote for. To be most effective, define your values, then pick your party affiliation, if any. Focus on candidates that meet your criteria. Write down your choices or place them on your phone to easily reference at your polling place. Here’s a useful form for that purpose.
- The fall “midterm” election will be held on Tuesday, November 8, 2022, from 6:30 am to 7:30 pm. You can vote in person at your polling place on that date, or in person at an early voting location starting 10/12/2022 (hours vary), or by absentee ballot requested from the Secretary of State. Here are absentee ballot instructions.
- Now, mark your calendar, make a plan, and JUST DO IT!!
The gains made by the cannabis community have often involved the ballot box. The mere threat of a successful ballot measure motivated the 2016 passage of H.B. 523, Ohio’s medical marijuana law. Think that marijuana is not on the Ohio ballot in 2022? Directly, it is not, but indirectly, most certainly yes, through the election of one U.S. Senator, 15 U.S. Representatives, 33 Ohio Senators, 99 Ohio Representatives, 3 Ohio Supreme Court seats, 7 local ballot issues, 4 Executive Branch officials, one lieutenant governor and one governor. That’s 165 state-level candidates who can influence cannabis policy, and only a fraction of those running for public office. Convincing at least half of them about the merits of the plant is essential to serving patients and advancing the industry. Although there is still a long way the go, the shortest path to success is the vote of Every. Single. Supporter.
The marijuana vote
Based on data from the National Survey on Drug Use and Health, cannabis consumers comprise an estimated 13 million voters nationally and 9% of the Ohio electorate. Ohio’s registered medical marijuana patients number 302,508, most of them voters. These aficionados carry political clout because they are passionate about their cause and oftentimes vote single issue. They push a progressive agenda that can radiate outward from marijuana alone. With power in numbers and as a voting-block, they can change outcomes. Elections are often won on narrow margins of just a few percentage points. In “competitive districts” with differences of, say, 5 percent or less, the “9%” marijuana vote can shift a tight races to candidates who support the cause or away from those who do not.
Voting against self interest
Many issues of concern to Ohioans are on the ballot. Should we vote down party lines – only for Democrats or only for Republicans? What about third parties: the Greens or the Libertarians? Should we vote for cute guy or the attractive gal? Is a Harvard law degree essential, or work in a steel mill adequate? How about the economy, or immigration, or gas prices? An interesting lesson in self-interest occurred in Kansas. Way back in 2005, Thomas Frank wrote a book called, “What’s the Matter with Kansas?.” Its premise lay in the powerful forces that transformed the state from blue collar liberalism to red state conservatism using cultural issues like “filth” on TV, prayer in schools, and … abortion. But when true self-interest came into play – the Dobbs decision that gutted Roe v Wade – Kansas sang a different tune. Even with confusing ballot language and a detailed recount, Kansas voters turned out in mass to protect abortion rights by a 59-41% “no” margin in a referendum that would have nixed the procedure in the state. The same mindset can advance cannabis in Ohio … if everyone turns out to vote.
But that’s not all. Operating against self-interest also seems prevalent with political parties. America is said to be a nation of the people, by the people, where the people decide. Over the last decade, voter support for legalizing marijuana surpassed a simple 50+% majority to now exceed a two-thirds super majority. For black voters, Democrats and independents, support exceeds 70%. In Ohio, 60% say recreational marijuana should be legalized. But Republicans seem to be stuck in 1969, when prohibition ruled and only 12% of voters thought cannabis use should be legal. Today, 50+ years later, that drug war psyche remains in place, and despite the strong will of the people and a burgeoning new industry, Congress seems unable to disassemble it.
Political party positions
The Democratic and Republican parties often hold divergent views on cannabis. Sadly, in these turbulent times, electoral politics is often binary. And while just two candidates are vying for most districts, several do display “independent” write-in candidates. However, the candidate roster for the Ohio House of Representatives finds 29 of the 99 races (almost one third) with just one contender running unopposed. It’s often a Republican, but not always.
The Dem’s position on cannabis is generally favorable as illustrated by passage in the U.S. House of the More Act, Safe Banking Act and Medical Marijuana Research Act. Democratic Senators Schumer, Booker and Wyden have also introduced the Cannabis Administration and Opportunity Act. President Biden’s recent announcement on federal possession pardons puts in motion cannabis’ rescheduling or descheduling.
With a few exceptions (David Joyce, Ohio R-14 being one of them), Republicans in the U.S. House oppose cannabis legalization. For example, four Ohio GOP reps (Chabot, Wenstrup, Jordan and Latta) voted against all three of those aforementioned bills. Jim Jordan (R-4) makes the Republican legislative stance clear in his letter to a constituent, “Marijuana is therefore properly listed as a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substances Act.” In addition, the “RSC Family Policy Agenda” published recently by U.S. Rep. Jim Banks (R-IN), Chairman of 156-member Republican Study Committee. “Congress should not legalize marijuana, while also taking steps to constrain this new industry’s ability to harm children.” This report is starved of supporting data.
In Ohio, Governor Mike DeWine (R) called adult use “a mistake” and claimed he would veto any bill to legalize marijuana. Similarly, retiring Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman (R-12) affirmed, “I don’t want anybody to misunderstand my position … I’m not going to bring it [the bill] to the Senate floor.”
Life or death?
So, can cannabis policy rise to a life or death situation? Possibly. If Republicans take power or magnify the power they already have, patients and the burgeoning industry could be at risk. The party’s rhetoric indicates that they could reverse course and reinvigorate the drug war. Recall that, early in the Trump presidency, Attorney General Jeff Sessions repealed the Cole Memo and called on U.S. Attorneys to “enforce the laws enacted by Congress.” If this happened again with a new Congress and with cannabis remaining in Schedule I – where penalties for sale and cultivation can mean life in prison, a $1 million fine, and even the death penalty – canna-businesses would be exposed to deadly raids and forced to close their doors. Without an industry to serve them, patients with cancer, MS, PTSD, and a host of other debilitating conditions would be deprived of their medicine and face the return of harsh, crippling and sometimes fatal symptoms that accompany their maladies.
What we seek
Although the specifics can very person-to-person, generally cannabis users and aficionados want respect. We seek to be free of threats to our security and freedom because of our association with a simple plant. This means free of arrest, incarceration and asset forfeiture. We want to enjoy the same liberties as everyone else: ability to get and hold a good job and receive associated workers compensation and unemployment benefits. This includes banking, insurance, taxes, stock ownership, scholarships and other financial transactions. Cannabis use should never trigger child custody investigations, nor deprive us of housing, a college education, organ transplants, pain medication or healthcare. Cannabis patients and others who use the plant should be able to freely associate with one another and utilize cannabis products as a community, including personal cultivation. We wish to see vigorous research that recognizes the plant’s vast therapeutic properties and medicinal products that are unburdened by the pharmaceutical industry and its arduous drug approval process.
The moral of the story is, if we are to get what we seek, if we want to avoid reversing progress, and if we vote in our self-interest, the ballots of the cannabis community must be cast, most often for Democrats, but sometimes for Republicans, but always for those who specifically support our cause. It’s up to us to discern who the canna-candidates are.
To determine the canna-candidates – the candidates who support our cause and our values – a comprehensive review was conducted of VoteSmart.org; Ballotpedia.org; VoteNORML.org; BuckeyeBallot.com; Ohio Capitol Journal, BallotReady.org, Sensible Movement Coalition, and the search pages the U.S. House of Representatives and the Ohio Legislature.
Using these sources, answers to survey questions were analyzed, voting records were examined (federal and state), sources were verified, and Google searches were conducted. Some sites were a thin on candidates (VoteNORML & VoteSmart). The most expansive are the Ohio Capitol Journal and BuckeyeBallot.org.
See the summary table here.
- U.S. Senate: While in the U.S. House, Tim Ryan voted for all three cannabis bills. He has toured a cultivator and stated his support for both medical and adult use.
- U.S. House of Representatives. First,find out who represents you. Input your zip code and possibly your address here. Next, review this table. U.S. Representatives face election every two years. There are 15 Ohio seats in the U.S. House carved into Districts 1-15. For Districts 3, 9 or 14, canna-candidates are Joyce Beatty (D-3), Marcy Kaptur (D-9), Shontel Brown (D-11), or David Joyce (R-14) respectively. However, in Districts 1, 2, 4, or 5, Steve Chabot (R-1), Brad Wenstrup (R-2), Jim Jordan (R-4) and Bob Latta (R-5) have each voiced clear opposition to cannabis or received poor ratings on the topic. Their opponents – respectively Greg Landsman, Samantha Meadows, Tammie Wilson, or Craig Swartz (all Democrats) – probably hold a different view. In other congressional districts, representatives are split on their cannabis support. Some voted for research but against banking. In these nuanced situations, it’s likely the Democratic contender will be more sympathetic than the Republican.
- Ohio House of Representatives. First,find out who represents you here. Next, review this table. (The green check marks indicate the canna-candidates.) While a number of Republicans have voiced opposition, a few show themselves to be supporters by introducing needed legislation. Reps who spearheaded bill introductions, the canna-candidates in the Ohio House, are: Terrence Upchurch (D-20), Juanita Brent (D-22), Sedrick Denson (D-26), Casey Weinstein (D-34), Jamie Callender (R-57), and Ron Ferguson (R-96). Bill Seitz (R-30) co-sponsored H.B. 60 to permit medical cannabis use in autism. Mike LoyChik (R-65) and Adam Bird (R-63) co-sponsored legislation loosen marijuana penalties. Dontavius Jarrells (D-1), Richard Brown (D-5), Elliott Forhan (D-21), Rita Darrow (D-31), Tavia Galonski (D-33), Amy Cox (D-40), and Thomas West (D-49) all answered “yes” to legalizing marijuana for recreational use in the Buckeye Ballot Voter Guide.
- Ohio Senate. First, input your address and find out who represents you here. Next, review this table. (The green check marks indicate the canna-candidates.) Only 17 odd numbered districts (out of 33 total) are up for election this year. The most significant cannabis-focused legislation in the Senate is S.B. 261, introduced by Senator Stephen Huffman, who also championed H.B. 523 while he was an Ohio House member. Senate canna-candidates (Districts 5, 13,and 29) include Senator Huffman (R-5), Nathan Manning (R-13), and Kurk Schuring (R-29), based on their bill introductions and voting records. In Districts 9, 13, and 17 respectively, Catherine Ingram (D-9), Anthony Eliopoulos (D-13), and Garry Boone (D-17) affirmed their support of recreational use. Bob Hagan(D-33)is a cannabis icon, having introduced numerous marijuana-related bill when he held legislative offices in the 2000s.
- Governor: Former Dayton mayor, Nan Whaley and running mate for Lieutenant Governor Cheryl Stephens will appear together on the ballot. Whaley has been a long standing canna-candidate. Per Cincinnati.com, “She supports legalizing recreational marijuana in Ohio, saying the current penalties disproportionately harm Black residents.” While mayor, Dayton eliminated fines for marijuana use. She pledges to continue this work as governor.
- Executive Branch Offices: Attorney General, Secretary of State, Treasurer, and Auditor. For Attorney General, candidates areJeff Crossman (D) vs incumbent Dave Yost (R). Yost is known for putting his foot in his mouth (like the perennial myth of fentanyl-tainted cannabis). His office has a webpage for submitting marijuana law enforcement tips. For Secretary of State, candidates are Chelsea Clark (D) vs incumbent Frank LaRose (R). LaRose certified the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiated statute, but that’s his job. He also voted for H.B. 523 in 2016 as an Ohio Senator. For Treasurer, candidates are Scott Schertzer (D) and incumbent Robert Sprague (R). For Auditor, candidates are Taylor Sappington (D) and incumbent Keith Faber (R). Faber voted against H.B. 523. These four incumbents (Yost, LaRose, Sprague, and Faber) were asked about marijuana by the Associated Press in 2019. All had concerns about legalizing and repeated many of anti-cannabis myths. For these reasons, the canna-candidates would be their opponents: Crossman (AG), Clark (SoS), Schertzer (Treasurer) and Sappington (Auditor).
- Supreme Court. Three seats on Ohio Supreme Court are up for election this year. Pat DeWine (R – the Governor’s son) is running for reelection against Marilyn Zayas (D), and Pat Fischer (R) is running for reelection against Terri Jamison (D). Two current justices – Jennifer Brunner (D) and Sharon Kennedy (R) – are vying for the Chief Justice seat. The Court can at times hear cannabis cases like this one pertaining to an unconstitutional search. So, while the justices will not take positions on issues, per se, their judicial philosophies can be examined. Such a review was conducted by BuckeyeBallot.com (p. 6). Examining the responses suggests that the Ohio Supreme Court canna-candidates will be Democrats Zayas, Jamison and Brunner.
- Other elections. A large number of other statewide election contests are being held such as the State Board of Education, intermediate appellate courts (28 seats), courts of appeals and common pleas, and municipal seats like county commissioner, auditor, recorder and more. Some of these candidates are listed here.
- Decriminalization initiatives. Last, but hardly least, Ohioans in seven cities will be voting to decriminalize cannabis (remove fines, jail time and court costs for marijuana possession under 200 grams). The towns are Kent, Corning, Helena, Hemlock, Laurelville, Rushville, or Shawnee. If you’re registered in one of these jurisdictions, please VOTE YES!
Whew! Voting can be a lot of hard work – researching, analyzing, deciding. But it’s all worthwhile when the cannabis community exercises its clout and becomes instrumental in electing cannabis friendly politicians. They’re the ones that can give us what we want and rightly deserve. They can make our dreams come true. So, get out there and VOTE!! Your life, or at least your well-being may depend on it.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are Mary Jane’s and hers only. They may not reflect those of any entity with which she is affiliated.
Editor’s Note: MedicateOH thanks the Columbus Free Press for allowing us to reprint Mary Jane Borden’s articles for wider circulation.