Cannabis Legalization Campaign in Ohio Sends Cease and Desist Letters to TV Stations

Cannabis Legalization Campaign in Ohio Sends Cease and Desist Letters to TV Stations

The letters were sent in response to ads run by an opposition group "filled with lies," according to the pro-legalization organization.

The fight to legalize adult-use marijuana in Ohio is getting testier with Election Day a little more than a month away. According to multiple media outlets, supporters behind a ballot initiative that would make recreational cannabis for adults 21 and older legal in the Buckeye State sent cease and desist letters to local TV stations on Thursday to stop them from airing ads opposing the reform measure.


Describing the ads as being "filled with lies," Tom Haren, a spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which initiated the petition-driven effort to legalize, said, "It's incredibly disappointing anytime Ohio voters are lied to, but it's clear our opposition sees no other way to defeat Issue 2."


"It's incredibly disappointing anytime Ohio voters are lied to, but it's clear our opposition sees no other way to defeat Issue 2."

- Tom Haren, a spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol


The spots were produced by the organization Weed Free Kids, and according to a copy of one of the cease and desist letters, they "contain multiple false or misleading statements about the proposed law."


And in the world of political campaign wars, not all ads are created equal. As attorney Donald McTigue of Columbus-based McTigue & Colombo LLC, who sent the letters to the various stations, wrote, "Unlike candidate ads, organizations like 'Weed Free Kids' do not have a 'right to command the use of broadcast facilities.'" Likewise, because stations are not mandated to run issue ads, the letter continues, "Your station bears responsibility for its content when you do grant access."


"Unlike candidate ads, organizations like 'Weed Free Kids' do not have a 'right to command the use of broadcast facilities.' Your station bears responsibility for its content when you do grant access."

- Donald McTigue of Columbus-based McTigue & Colombo LLC


The letter cites federal regulations and case law, reminding station executives that they must shield the public from false, deceitful or misleading advertising. The letter concludes with a warning that failure to comply "can be cause for the loss of a station's license."


"My client asks that your station cease broadcasting these ads immediately in the public's interest in accurate discourse on the subject of the proposed law," it says.


The issue of cannabis legalization is a hot-button topic for many Ohio voters, and many political insiders view the ballot initiative as a sure bet for passage on Election Day. One of the main reasons for the optimism is the potential financial impact a legal market could provide to the state's treasury.


A recent economic analysis by Ohio State University found that the state could collect up to $403.6 million in annual tax revenue from recreational cannabis sales if voters approve the ballot measure.


Another factor bolstering confidence in the initiative's passage is the voice of the citizenry in the Buckeye State. According to a USA TODAY Network/Suffolk University poll published in July, 59% of Ohioans support legalizing the possession and sale of marijuana for adults over 21, with only 35% opposed.


However, not all Ohioans want to see legalized marijuana in their home state. The Weed Free Kids campaign primarily focuses on the obviously vital need to keep cannabis products away from children. Their ads "Flatline" and "Candy" both powerfully intimate that if adult-use cannabis becomes legal in Ohio, it will be the youngest citizens who pay the ultimate price.


One of the ads claims, "Issue 2 allows for marijuana manufacturers to market their edibles as sweets as candy, without any safeguards for children. That means many children will be poisoned by lookalike products."


"Issue 2 allows for marijuana manufacturers to market their edibles as sweets as candy, without any safeguards for children. That means many children will be poisoned by lookalike products."

- Weed Free Kids Ad Claim


To address those assertions, the Yes on Issue 2 campaign attached an additional seven pages of fact-checking notes to the one-page cease and desist letters debunking all the alleged falsehoods in the opposition's advertisements.


As it mainly relates to the "no protections for children" accusation, the group points out specific provisions in the proposed reform measure to prevent adverse impacts on kids. For example, sales would only be allowed to adults 21 and older, stores would have to check customer IDs before purchase, and facilities would have to be located away from schools, parks, playgrounds and libraries.


The state of Ohio is a historically crucial barometer for how the rest of the country will side with a particular presidential candidate or controversial issue. It is perhaps no coincidence that if voters choose to approve the ballot measure, Ohio will become the 24th state to legalize adult-use cannabis, meaning the country would practically be split in half on the polarizing issue.


With other states like Wisconsin and Maine also contemplating legalization legislation and the DEA considering the Department of Health and Human Services recommendation to move cannabis from Schedule I to Schedule III on the Controlled Substances List, the balance of power on whether to legalize or not could be moving more and more toward a total end to federal prohibition.


If the United States is, in fact, a democracy where the majority rules, then that inevitable and seismic change will happen. And no dubiously produced and disseminated political ad will be able to stop it.