Yet another group ‘protecting’ Ohioans springs up to oppose recreational marijuana measure

By: - August 18, 2023 4:55 am

A marijuana activist holds a flag during a march on Independence Day on July 4, 2021 in Washington, DC. (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

An initiated statute will appear on November’s ballot in Ohio asking voters whether to legalize recreational marijuana for adults 21 and over. Less than an hour after the organization backing the effort announced it cleared the bar, a group opposing the marijuana measure made its presence known.

And the name might sound familiar.

As with August’s proposal to make it harder to amend Ohio’s constitution and November’s measure for reproductive rights, the organization spearheading the anti-marijuana campaign presents itself as ‘protecting’ Ohioans.

Protect Our Constitution, Protect Our Kids and Protect Women Ohio, meet Protect Ohio Workers and Families. Cincinnati attorney David Langdon had a hand in setting up each one.

There is, of course, nothing illegal or even very unusual about one person having a hand in multiple political organizations. Catherine Turcer from the government watchdog Common Cause Ohio notes it’s not even that unusual.

“We shouldn’t be surprised that folks that work in campaigns, especially specifically ballot campaigns, that they basically become successful at what they do, and that they keep getting new jobs,” she said.

She noted attorney Don McTigue has been a go-to lawyer for more progressive organizers.

Still, she worries about the timing. The latest organization was established Aug. 1 — about a month after the most recent campaign finance reporting period. That means Protect Ohio Workers and Families will file only one campaign finance report before November’s election.

“Which is literally 10 days out from the election,” Turcer laughed. “Like, it’s too late, right?”

Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose talks to reporters. (Photo by Susan Tebben, OCJ.)


Turcer cautioned that filing paperwork for advocacy groups is just part of the gig for some political professionals. But she added there’s a not always an easily defined point at which that involvement becomes problematic.

“There’s a difference in organizing (or) advocating on ballot measures and electioneering,” she said. “And where things get murky has to do with the Leadership for Ohio fund.”

That organization is at the center of an FEC complaint against Secretary of State and GOP U.S. Senate candidate Frank LaRose. Langdon set up the group and LaRose encouraged donors to contribute to it while publicly flirting with a Senate bid. Meanwhile, the organization paid for polling presenting LaRose as the strongest GOP candidate.

The complaint alleges LaRose abused so-called “testing the waters” allowances to help the group raise more than $1 million that might be leveraged to support his candidacy.

“Well, it’s incredibly cozy,” Turcer said.

“That close association with a candidate also is a close association with an elected official who actually administers Ohio elections,” she added. “And that makes voter advocates worried about appropriate election administration.”

Protect Ohio Workers and Families’ campaign pitch

Protect Ohio Workers and Families describes recreational marijuana as “today’s version of Big Tobacco — big corporations getting rich at the expense of our kids and society.” The organization has the backing of the state’s prosecutors, police chiefs and sheriffs as well as the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association.

The organization also has the backing of the Center for Christian Virtue. The group lobbied to get Issue 1 on the ballot in August and is part of the Protect Women Ohio coalition fighting the reproductive rights amendment in November.

In a statement, steering committee member Angela Phillips, who heads up Phillips Tube Group in Middletown, argued marijuana is bad for business.

“Expanding access to this addictive drug brings even more risks to Ohioans, especially for employers who prioritize a safe workplace but already struggle to find workers who can pass a drug test,” she argued. “Is bringing new risks and costs to employers really worth it, just so some people can use marijuana whenever they want?”

A campaign image posted on the Protect Ohio Workers and Families website.

While marijuana use disorder affects about 3 in 10 users, The National Institute on Drug Abuse says it’s difficult to distinguish dependence and addiction. Although the conditions are different, studies “often use dependence as a proxy for addiction even though it is possible to be dependent without being addicted.”

A 2011 study, for instance, found about 9% of marijuana users became ‘dependent,’ compared with about 23% for alcohol and 68% for nicotine.

In a series of images posted to their site, the organization goes beyond Phillip’s business arguments. Superimposed on a picture of prescription bottles, one says “Ohio doesn’t have a revenue problem… it has a drug problem.”

Others suggest marijuana would threaten “safe communities,” “clean air” and “children’s health.”

The proposed statute wouldn’t give children access to marijuana. The changes wouldn’t even affect adults younger than 21.

As for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which is backing the proposal, they expressed gratitude and excitement after making the ballot.

After falling just short in its initial signature submission, the organization dropped off almost ten times the signatures necessary to make up the shortfall. At the time they said “this submission validates what we’ve said all along: regulating marijuana is popular in Ohio.”

Follow OCJ Reporter Nick Evans on Twitter.



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Nick Evans
Nick Evans

Nick Evans has spent the past seven years reporting for NPR member stations in Florida and Ohio. He got his start in Tallahassee, covering issues like redistricting, same sex marriage and medical marijuana. Since arriving in Columbus in 2018, he has covered everything from city council to football. His work on Ohio politics and local policing have been featured numerous times on NPR.