Ohio's Legalization Vote Pumps the Cannabis Industry for the Holidays

Tuesday's election is the latest development to give cannapreneurs a timely morale and business boost

It’s no secret that collaboration is essential to growth, but the how of it isn’t always so clear—and it's the understanding of how that is a true competitive advantage. Join Adweek X, a uniquely formatted event on December 4 in LA, to unlock fresh perspectives, true collaboration and growth.

Republican-led and conservative-leaning Ohio has become the 24th U.S. state to legalize cannabis for recreational sales, with voters there overwhelmingly approving a ballot measure on Tuesday.

The election result, which could pump as much as $4 billion into the state within a few years per MJBizDaily, comes as a newly released Gallup poll found that a record-breaking 70% of the American public favors legalization.

Meantime, the federal Department of Health and Human Services has recommended that cannabis be taken out of the most restrictive level of scheduled drugs, and the U.S. Senate voted last week to give military veterans government-approved access to medical weed.

Taken as a whole—along with new and expanded marketing avenues like Twitter, Spotify and Pornhub—the recent developments have given the cannabis industry a much-needed shot in the arm.

Ohio’s vote “holds weight in further supporting the normalization of cannabis,” according to Vince C. Ning, co-CEO and co-founder of Nabis, a wholesale weed distributor.

Ohio’s Issue 2 had backing from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which launched an ad campaign leading to Election Day on Nov. 7.

“With each state that comes online, a more consistent and destigmatized approach emerges, creating a ripple effect,” Ning told Adweek. “Beyond numbers and polls, Ohio’s stance becomes a pivotal chapter in the narrative of the economic evolution of the cannabis industry as a whole.”

And the timing couldn’t be better, coming up to the holidays and the annual sales bonanza called Green Wednesday (also known as the day before Thanksgiving).

Bottom-line boost

There’s a sense of momentum going into the fourth quarter selling period that has value on its own, cannapreneurs say. 

But the headlines generated lately around the country and ongoing discussions in Washington D.C., having elevated weed’s profile, could also boost the bottom line by bringing new consumers into the category.

As if to prove the point: Hours after the Ohio vote, phones were already ringing with consumer inquiries at The Botanist dispensary’s Canton flagship and its four other Ohio locations, according to Kate Nelson, evp of Midwest and New England regions at parent company Acreage Holdings.

“Now that we’ve had a few years of our medical program in Ohio, the expansion to adult use seems less scary,” Nelson told Adweek. “The infrastructure is in place, and we expect a great deal of growth.”

The high-profile media and legislative attention gives the multistate operator a springboard to talk to a range of consumers, from the cannacurious to lapsed users and newbies. And given that no adult sales will take place in Ohio until September 2024—if there are no legislative take-backs or roadblocks—there’s plenty of time to educate the public about the category.

In the immediate future, expect marketers in the space to capitalize on the spotlight heading into a crucial sales season that will account for a sizable chunk of the anticipated $33.6 billion nationwide cannabis haul for 2023, per MJBiz. BDSA predicts $43 billion in sales by 2027, with much of the growth coming from newly legal Midwest and East Coast states.

And the significance of the day before Thanksgiving cannot be overstated: Last year’s Green Wednesday logged $116.4 million in single-day sales, a 16% increase from 2021 and second only to 4/20, the granddaddy of weed celebrations, per Akerna.

‘Entirely validating’

In an industry that has struggled for the past few years—via heavy tax burdens, product oversupply, price compression, scant investment and illicit competition, among other ills—the Ohio vote in particular feels “entirely validating,” according to Emily Paxhia, co-founder and managing partner of cannabis hedge fund Poseidon Investment Management.

The geography, where Ohio is a longtime bellwether for American politics, is also noteworthy, providing “an incredibly interesting litmus test in where we’re going next” as a canna-friendly country, Paxhia said.

Gen Z, the “cannabis-native generation,” drove the legalization vote in the seventh-most-populous state—86% of 18-to-24-year-olds voted for the ballot measure called Issue 2, per NBC News. That fact will likely make an impression on President Joe Biden and other candidates for the nation’s top office in 2024. (Issue 2 passed with 57% of the total vote).

The American public has reached “a broad consensus” on legalization, per the Gallup study released this week that noted “not only do most U.S. adults favor it, but so do majorities of all major political and ideological subgroups.”

Some local officials in Ohio lauded the Issue 2 vote, with Cleveland Mayor Justin Bibb saying that “decriminalizing marijuana is a victory for all of us” and calling it a “common-sense” and “winning” issue. 

The turnout in Ohio, while continuing the state-by-state green wave that also includes a legalized D.C., has broader implications.

“A lot of good things are happening right now,” Paxhia said. “The death rattle of prohibition is loud.”

Enjoying Adweek's Content? Register for More Access!