Senate Banking Committee Chairman Says He Voted For Ohio Marijuana Legalization Ballot Initiative Despite Reservations

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) says he voted in favor of a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Ohio, calling it a “hard decision” but one that was based on his belief that the reform would promote “safety” for consumers.

The senator, who said in September that he was at that point undecided on Issue 2, revealed in a social media post and an interview that he ultimately voted yes on the cannabis reform measure last week during early voting.

“It was a hard decision,” Brown told Spectrum News 1. “My wife and I spent a lot of time talking about it. We talked about exposure to for young people. We’ve talked about a whole lot of things in the end.”

“We voted to legalize because we thought overall regulation—legalization and regulation of marijuana use—the public would be safer doing it that way,” the chairman, whose panel separately approved a federal marijuana banking bill in September, said.

Brown has faced criticism from reform advocates over his decades-long tenure in Congress, consistently declining to sponsor or cosponsor legalization legislation despite the issue’s growing bipartisan popularity.

He expressed “significant concerns” about an earlier 2015 Ohio marijuana legalization ballot measure that voters ultimately rejected—which, to be fair, was also opposed by many longtime cannabis activists over the way they felt it would have unfairly structured the market.

As recently as 2018, Brown suggested that cannabis might be a gateway drug. “States that have legalized marijuana, we’ll see what happens in those states,” he said at the time. “If that means less addiction to more powerful drugs, or if it’s a gateway—and I don’t think we don’t know that yet.”

As a House member in 1998, Brown voted for a resolution “expressing the sense of Congress that marijuana is a dangerous and addictive drug and should not be legalized for medicinal use.” The measure argued that “the ambiguous cultural messages about marijuana use are contributing to a growing acceptance of marijuana use among children and teenagers.”

“Congress continues to support the existing Federal legal process for determining the safety and efficacy of drugs and opposes efforts to circumvent this process by legalizing marijuana, and other Schedule I drugs, for medicinal use without valid scientific evidence and the approval of the Food and Drug Administration,” the resolution said.

In a 2010 letter to a constituent, Brown wrote that “there are risks associated with making marijuana legally available,” according to NORML. “The widespread popularity and use of this drug among our nation’s youth, as well as its role as a ‘pipeline’ drug (potentially leading to the use of heroin and other lethal drugs) distinguishes it from other controlled substances, and we must be particularly careful before creating the potential for expanded access and use.”

In 2011, Brown told a student who asked him to support marijuana reform legislation that he would “probably not” take initiative on the issue.

“I’ve got other priorities,” the senator said.

That said, Brown as a House member did vote in favor of amendments to prevent federal intervention in state medical cannabis programs, and he’s voiced support for legalizing medical cannabis and preserving states’ rights to set their own marijuana laws.

And when it came time to vote on statewide legalization this time, the senator gave the reform a thumbs up at the ballot box.

He’s not the only member of Congress from the state supporting the initiative, either. Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, has also affirmed that he will be voting “yes” on Issue 2, and he’s encouraged “all Ohio voters to participate and make their voices heard on this important issue.”

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According to two recent polls, the lawmakers may well find themselves in the majority who ultimately approve the legalization initiative.

A survey by Public Policy Polling found that 59 percent of respondents would vote yes on Issue 2, while 39 percent would vote against it. Just 2 percent were undecided.

A separate poll from Northern Ohio University found that two out of three voters support legalizing marijuana generally—though the survey didn’t specifically ask about Issue 2. Questions about cannabis in that survey were limited to use and attitudes toward the drug and policies surrounding it generally.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine (R), meanwhile, has been talking to local TV stations about his opposition to the legalization measure. But a survey of Ohio state lawmakers suggests that a majority—54 percent—believe voters will approve the ballot initiative.

Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) has separately published an analysis of the initiative that he said is meant to provide voters with “vital clarity and transparency” amid a campaign that has seen “inflamed and inaccurate” rhetoric.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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