This Pro-Marijuana Mascot May Hurt Ohio's Chances of Legalization

In less than three weeks, Ohio voters will be deciding whether to support Issue 3, which will legalize marijuana for both medical and adult use if passed. But sadly, rather than rallying around the initiative, run by a group called ResponsibleOhio, the national legalization movement has remained split over a controversial clause that gives an oligopoly on marijuana cultivation to the wealthy individuals bankrolling the campaign. After months of trying to win over the national movement, the campaign succeeded in uniting the two camps -- unfortunately, that unity was not in support of the measure, but in opposition to ResponsibleOhio's new mascot.

That's right, ResponsibleOhio is the first marijuana legalization campaign in the country to have a mascot -- a cartoon superhero with a marijuana bud for a head, at that. Buddie (yes, that's actually its name) was condemned from the minute it was unveiled, with medical marijuana advocates saying it makes light of a serious issue and others voicing concerns that it appeals to children and is reminiscent of Joe Camel. The campaign brushed off the complaints and said it was just a gimmick as part of its college tour. And for those who subscribe to the "all news is good news" philosophy, it worked, with Buddie mentioned in countless news articles, editorialized against on, and even ridiculed on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert.

But activists who have been fighting for marijuana legalization since long before it seemed inevitable saw Buddie as an irresponsible and dangerous tactic. As legalization's opponents have shifted strategies from demonizing marijuana itself to fear-mongering about the prospect of a "Big Marijuana" that markets to children much like the tobacco companies before it, a mascot seems designed by prohibitionists as the perfect talking point or negative campaign ad. Reformers immediately began to distance themselves from the campaign and call for Buddie's retirement.

A petition, "Stop using a superhero mascot to campaign for marijuana legalization in Ohio," has garnered over 500 signatures, including hundreds of Ohio residents and dozens of leaders in the national reform movement and the legal marijuana industry. Signatories range from Russ Belville, arguably ResponsibleOhio's biggest defender, to Dan Riffle of the Marijuana Policy Project, whose organization is officially neutral but who is personally against the measure. It also includes leaders like Tom Angell of Marijuana Majority, Betty Aldworth of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, Eric Sterling of the Criminal Justice Policy Foundation, and even the popular marijuana website The Weed Blog.

When this petition was brought to ResponsibleOhio, they refused the opportunity to fix their tactics and run a truly responsible campaign, instead saying they planned to keep Buddie on the campaign trail. While it will do little to help get college students on their side -- as a student organizer for drug policy reform for four years, I can attest that college students don't need a fuzzy mascot to get excited about legalization -- keeping Buddie will only give more ammunition to prohibitionists. On October 6, a parody mascot called Nuggie interrupted a press conference for a marijuana research center. The self-described "cousin of everyone's favorite Marijuana Mascot, Buddie of ResponsibleOhio," also sports a marijuana bud for a head, but with a zoned-out look on its face and an enormous joint and bong always in hand.

Nuggie is only the beginning of the attacks that ResponsibleOhio and campaigns in other states will receive if Buddie remains on the campaign trail. The national legalization movement's condemnation of the mascot will help, but ideally, the Ohio campaign will realize how counterproductive this tactic is and formally apologize for it. Nationwide, marijuana reform continues to gain traction, and the latest polls even show that 56 percent of Ohio voters currently support Issue 3, so this election is theirs to lose. If prohibition prevails on November 3, Buddie will be one of the main reasons it does.