What Remains on the Ballot for 2015

It has been a quiet week nearly everywhere. Those with vacation time left and no school-aged kids have seized the last chance to get away to sand and sun—the weather is good and the market is nonsense. After the late August snooze, though, what happens for legalization?

The risk of incremental losses at the ballot box may weigh more heavily than the potential for incremental gains in 2015. Furthermore, the whole question of what winning and losing actually mean has become vastly more nuanced, as observers have seen in the ResponsibleOhio campaign. Nonetheless, 2015 sets up the big game in 2016. So for the remainder of this calendar year, get ready to get local.



On September 15, 2015, voters in Toledo, Ohio, will have a chance to approve the Sensible Marijuana Ordinance Initiative. If approved, Issue 1 would decrease the penalties of marijuana use to the absolute minimum, while keeping the substance technically illegal in order to comply with state law.

The measure would:

  • Remove all jail time and fines for marijuana violations,
  • Prevent driver license suspension due to marijuana violations,
  • Forbid any marijuana violation from being reported to any professional licensing board or agency.
  • Prevent law enforcement agencies from reporting marijuana violations to any authority above the local city attorney, and
  • Prohibit civil or criminal asset forfeiture as a consequence of any marijuana-related infraction



On October 6, both the City of Palmer, Alaska, and the Borough of Matanuska-Sustina, within which Palmer is located, will have the opportunity to approve identical measures that would prohibit the operation of recreational marijuana businesses.

Alaska voters approved full legalization in 2014, but permitted local governments to opt-out. The Palmer and Matanuska-Sustina measures would exempt businesses dealing with industrial hemp, but would outlaw parlors, cafes, commercial grow operations for recreational uses, or any other forms of business trading in the drug.



November 3 is the big day in Ohio, Denver, and Portage, Michigan.

On that date, Denver voters may have the chance to approve the Limited Social Marijuana Consumption Initiative that would allow the consumption of cannabis in certain restaurants, bars and private businesses. The initiative would grant exceptions to the city’s ban on public marijuana use. Supporters of the measure had until September 3 to gather and submit 4,726 valid signatures. They submitted over 10,700 signatures to the city clerk on August 10. The clerk now has 25 days to verify the signatures, so whether the initiative will appear on the ballot is still open to some question.

Even if approved, however, an issue will remain about conflict with state law that prohibits public consumption. The conflict may prompt the General Assembly to address the subject of public consumption of marijuana on a statewide basis as soon as the 2016 session.

Also on November 3, Ohio voters will have the opportunity to approve an investor-sponsored Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative. On approval, it would legalize the medical and personal use of marijuana for persons who are 21 years of age or older. Medical patients would require a doctor’s note. Recreational users would be permitted to possess one ounce of the drug or less. Home growers with a cultivation license would be permitted to grow four flowering plants at a given time. The measure also awards cultivation licenses to donors to the ResponsibleOhio organization.

Portage voters in Kalamazoo County, Michigan, will have the opportunity to approve the City of Portage Marijuana Decriminalization Proposal, a charter amendment that would decriminalize the use and possession of small amounts of marijuana. The measure would block the application of criminal penalties for possessing, using or transferring up to an ounce of marijuana on private property for anyone over 21.

A smattering of measures in the California cities of Costa Mesa, Upland and Vallejo, originally proposed for the 2015 ballot now appear more likely for 2016. The big game, of course, is 2016, but the proposals for the 2015 ballot may be an important step in setting up the field.

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