Image via ResponsibleOhio.com
Jan 20, 2015
Star Beacon - COLUMBUS - The latest attempt to convince voters to legalize marijuana for medical and personal use in Ohio seems to be taking cues from the successful 2009 ballot issue that embraced casinos.
Several proposals - alternating among legalizing medical use, recreational use, and industrial hemp - have gotten as far as having Attorney General Mike DeWine sign off on the accuracy of their petition language.
But at least one other proposal remains active.
The new organization ResponsibleOhio is expected to announce the latest proposal “very soon” and faces an early July deadline to gather at least 305,591 signatures to qualify for this year’s November ballot.
“We think the goal to be on the ballot in 2015 is very reasonable,” spokesman Lydia Bolander said.
She said the language will involve a “tightly regulated” and “heavily taxed” marijuana industry.
The 2009 casino ballot issue wrote four monopolies in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati into the state constitution and was specific down to the parcel numbers.
ResponsibleOhio said it will propose 10 regional locations to grow cannabis for medical and recreational use. The plan does not allow for individual Ohioans to legally grow marijuana for their own use.
The plan will also include five testing centers. Ms. Bolander declined to say how specific the language would be specific in terms of the 10 cultivation and five testing locations.
Jon Allison, a consultant with the nonprofit Drug-Free Action Alliance, said he expects opposition to come primarily from business and law enforcement.
“We understand they’re going to run their campaign and then the marijuana business like Ohio’s casino model,” he said. “We’re told there will be 10 investors who will fund the campaign, and the reward, should they win, will be a big return on their investment with constitutionally protected drug cartels, geographic monopolies over the drug business.”
Twenty-three states, including neighboring Michigan, and the District of Columbia have legalized marijuana to some degree. The vast majority of state laws apply only to medical use.
ResponsibleOhio is proposing, like the casino backers, to use the proceeds from taxes on marijuana to fund local public services.
The organization has registered with the secretary of state’s office, trademarked through Columbus attorney Mark McGinnis. The organization’s address is the same as Mr. McGinnis’ law firm with Don McTigue. The firm is often the go-to firm for Democratic officials, candidates, and related ballot issues.
Ms. Bolander last year served as spokesman for Democratic attorney general candidate David Pepper, now chairman of the Ohio Democratic Party.
“Once we file the amendment and have more opportunity to talk about our proposal with voters and the public, you’ll see that this is something everyone will support and that it’s not a partisan issue,” Ms. Bolander said. “It’s about doing what’s right for Ohio
The backers of the yet-to-be-defined proposal say marijuana would be treated much like alcohol, including using 21 as the legal age for consumption. Local voters would decide whether retail establishments could be based in their communities much as voters now have local option votes for liquor.
The testing sites are being presented as a safety mechanism given the uncertainty of what’s being sold now illegally in Ohio.
“We’ve seen families torn part because they’ve had loved ones who purchased marijuana having serious reactions because what they were buying was laced with PCP or heroin,” Ms. Bolander said. “... By having this testing, we will be sure that it will not only not have contaminants like harder drugs, but also not other contaminants like pesticides.”
The bar has been significantly lowered for qualifying an issue for the ballot
because of the low turnout for the Nov. 4 election. ResponsibleOhio must gather at least 305,591 valid signatures, the equivalent of 10 percent of the total gubernatorial vote.
History has shown, however, that they will likely need to gather much more than that number. Many signatures are routinely disqualified after a review by county boards of election.
Opponents have been quietly preparing.
“We knew the day was going to come when we would have a serious, well-funded campaign in Ohio,” Mr. Allison said. “Do we have all our ducks in a row for a campaign? No. But we have a pretty solid foundation.”
A Quinnipiac poll nearly a year ago showed that 87 percent of registered Ohio voters would support legalizing medical marijuana for medical purposes. Support dropped off significantly, however, when it came to allowing the carrying of small amounts for recreational use.