04 November 2015

A setback in Ohio

Among the many disappointments of yesterday's election, Ohio's initiative to legalize recreational marijuana appears to have been defeated by about two-to-one.  This was always a long shot given the low, right-leaning turnout we generally see in off-year elections (can we make it a rule from now on to put up ballot initiatives on critical social issues only in Presidential years?), but even so, this defeat may say less about the legalization movement's prospects than it seems to.

The Ohio proposal had an ugly flaw.  It would have given just ten pre-selected producers a joint monopoly on legal growing of marijuana, funneling huge profits to a small privileged group -- dramatically different from the freer decentralized model in other states where marijuana is legal.  58% of Ohio voters favor legal recreational marijuana, but this oligopolistic feature of the actual initiative on the table had aroused widespread opposition, even aside from the off-year turnout problem.

Nevertheless, if I had been an Ohio voter yesterday, I would have voted for the initiative.  Most major steps forward started off imperfect and with galling provisions to protect entrenched interests, then were improved over time.  Rather than insisting on all or nothing and getting nothing, it's better to take what you can get now and use it as a basis for getting more later.  This defeat means that Ohio will continue to prosecute and imprison people who have done nothing to deserve it.  A win would have ended that evil, while the ugly profiteering racket it created could have been modified and eventually done away with by future initiatives.  As it is, the state is simply back to square one.

No defeat should be accepted as permanent.  We've been here before.  In March of 2004 Oregon's Multnomah county (which includes Portland) began issuing marriage licenses to gay couples based on its interpretation of the state constitution.  I'll never forget the feeling of liberation and good cheer that prevailed for the two months the county was able to keep issuing licenses; over 3,000 gay couples were married, at a time when in most of the country gay marriage was still a concept too bizarre to seriously contemplate.  But in late April a judge ordered the county to stop, pending further legal and legislative review, and in November of that year voters statewide passed Measure 36, an initiative totally banning gay marriage in Oregon and invalidating the 3,000 marriages already performed.

It was a cruel and devastating defeat, a triumph of bigotry over humanity in what even then was generally a liberal-leaning state.  But, in hindsight, it was only a setback.  In the years that followed, gay marriage won in state after state, despite occasional further setbacks such as California's Proposition 8, and became culturally mainstream with the support of a substantial majority of Americans.  This June, less than 11 years after Measure 36, the Supreme Court swept away all state laws preventing gay people from marrying.

Today recreational marijuana is legal in just four states -- Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and Colorado -- basically the northwest plus one mavericky state in the interior, as gay marriage in its early days was confined to New England and Iowa.  But legal marijuana already has majority support and those who use it despite local laws number in the tens of millions, far more than the number of gay Americans.  A major Presidential candidate has come out in support of decriminalization.  National progress on this issue could be even faster than on gay marriage.  I don't think it will take 11 years for marijuana to become legal in Ohio (and the rest of the country).

Nevertheless, elections do have consequences.  Ohio wasn't the only place where low turnout did real harm.  In Houston, the fourth-largest city in the US, an ordinance banning anti-gay discrimination was rejected 62%-to-38%, even though the city had previously elected an openly-lesbian mayor.  In Kentucky, Republicans swept most of the state government thanks to a pitiful 30.7% voter turnout; the state's new Governor is Matt Bevin, the wingnut last seen as the teabaggers' failed primary challenger to "RINO" Mitch McConnell in 2014.  Kentucky is one of Obamacare's major successes, with about half a million people having gained insurance thanks to the law (Zandar has a map showing the impact).  If the new regime manages to roll back that progress, human lives will be lost because not enough voters went to the polls yesterday.

In many of yesterday's contests, the results were not only bad but also considerably worse than polls had predicted.  This reinforces the view that the growing prevalence of cell phones and reluctance of busy people to participate in surveys are making accurate polling more difficult.  It's a reminder that we'll need to fight like hell for every race next year.  No matter how promising the polls look, nothing can be taken for granted.


Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Hard to believe of all places, Ohio would vote against pot ... I havent even thought of what you said about these things coming up during off year elections ... I can tell you the polls here in my neighbourhood in North Dallas was "very few" showing up yesterday (I dont know the official turnout though). You know what is odd about pot in this country, I dont think there is a state where it's not saturated with pot ... even back in the 1970's for example in what is considered the deep south or creme of extreme fundamoralism, such as Mississippi, Alabama, Georgia, was saturated with pot and the use of it, I know, I played music in quite a few venues from Texas to there, it was saturated with pot, LSD and cocaine use (I myself used cocaine and pot like a kid eating Halloween candy). Look at Texas ... and the "country and western" music/ nightclub venues, which are a large majority of GOP leaning and gun toting "white" voters (those who actually vote) ... the bars have as much pot usage and drugs like cocaine as folks using alcohol nearly. Oddly, I cant figure how America thinx on issues like this ... has to be politically rigged, cult mentality or something.

04 November, 2015 04:10  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ranch: Every human culture on Earth uses some kind of mind-altering substance -- it's one of the few anthropological universals. The latest thing I've heard is that heroin is becoming epidemic in the rural US, especially poorer areas.

Unfortunately our culture drives people to dangerous options like alcohol, by treating marijuana in such a draconian way.

As for the election, the results don't reflect what America thinks. This is just what happens when most people don't vote -- because the wingnuts always do vote.

04 November, 2015 05:24  
Blogger Ranch Chimp said...

Here in Dallas area suburbs of "middle classes" (no where near poor), heroin use has been also on rise ... but get this ... because so many middle class got addicted to oxycodone pharmaceutical type drugs, when their budgets got tighter, many started using heroin because it's so much cheaper (the pharma companies got them addicted and now they resort to the black market to cover that addiction, eh?). Also here in middle class Dallas suburbs because of the economy, a large increase of middle class suburbanites now prostituting from their homes part time, to make extra money due to all the debt they're in ... so for some, you can say it's either sell your ass, or lose your ASSets.

04 November, 2015 06:01  
Blogger Shaw Kenawe said...

The new TEA-NUT governor of Kentucky may endanger about 4000,000 Kentuckians who qualified for Medicaid under the expansion initiated by Democratic Governor Beshear. That would be a catastrophe in a state that has a miserable record for healthy living.

Low voter turnout and ill-informed voters voting against their best interests. What a nasty combination.

04 November, 2015 06:14  
Blogger Tommykey said...

We have not yet begun to toke! :-)

04 November, 2015 09:41  
Anonymous Pokey said...

Schedule I: Schedule I drugs, substances, or chemicals are defined as drugs with no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse. Schedule I drugs are the most dangerous drugs of all the drug schedules with potentially severe psychological or physical dependence.
Why is marijuana classified as a Schedule I drug? It has medical uses, is not addictive, and do not have a high potential for abuse.

04 November, 2015 13:29  
Blogger Infidel753 said...

Ranch: middle class suburbanites now prostituting from their homes part time, to make extra money due to all the debt they're in

Interesting -- do you have a link on that?

Shaw: I fear Kentucky is about to join Kansas as a case study in the horrors of wingnut governance.

Tommykey: Heh!

Pokey: It's just stupid puritanical thinking and hysteria. No connection with the real world.

A note -- another parallel between marijuana and gay marriage is that our neighbor Canada looks likely to be an early adopter in the former case, as it was in the latter. But it looks like our other neighbor may also be moving ahead of us.

04 November, 2015 17:30  
Anonymous anver said...

good article

24 November, 2015 22:32  

Post a Comment

<< Home