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Who Will Legalize Ohio… and How?

Russ Belville

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Remember the twentieth century, when the idea of just allowing sick people to use marijuana as medicine was barely developing on the liberal West Coast? Remember how it took Herculean effort to organize a single campaign to gather signatures on petitions to vote for marijuana reform? Those days seem like ancient history now that the green rush is on and news media are proclaiming that marijuana is the biggest growth industry in America. Nowhere is the confluence of activism and capitalism more pronounced than the great state of Ohio.

There are three groups fighting to legalize adult marijuana marijuana in Ohio, but the one getting the most press lately is ResponsibleOhio.com. Their website is sleek and professional and the group has very wealthy backers. They are proposing retail marijuana stores that may be operated by any adult Ohioan, suggesting that out-of-state entities will be shut out. Also proposed are marijuana product manufacturers, operated by adult Ohioans that sell only to retail outlets. The measure would also legalize medical marijuana by providing for non-profit dispensaries. ResponsibleOhio would tax marijuana at 15%, divvying up the revenues 55% to local governments, 30% to law enforcement, infrastructure, and public safety in the counties, and 15% to a Marijuana Control Commission.

But part of why ResponsibleOhio has wealthy backers is their proposal on marijuana production. Just 10 sites would be approved for marijuana cultivation, written into the state constitution, effectively guaranteeing 10 wealthy growers a cartel monopoly on Ohio pot. Their claim is that having just 10 growers insures that Ohioans will receive top-quality inspected marijuana. Somehow I think the legions of professional growers in Colorado and Washington would be offended by that assumption.

Notably absent from their website is any mention of how much marijuana Ohio adults could possess and, more importantly, cultivate at home (if at all). It also does not reveal the actual text of the amendment they are proposing, merely summaries of the adult marijuana for-profits and medical marijuana non-profits. It’s the first marijuana legalization campaign I’ve covered that leads with the pot shop and ignores the pot shopper.

Adding to the stealth nature of the cartel monopolists at ResponsibleOhio is their appropriation of the name of the activists in Ohio who have been working for years to promote marijuana legalization. Their site, ResponsibleOhioans.org, lacks the professional web development of their doppelgänger, but has been in existence since 2011 and is a registered political action committee. The marijuana cartel monopoly site was just created last summer. With the money they’re throwing around, you’d think they could have come up with an original name, unless the intent was to bank on the goodwill ResponsibleOhioans have built within the cannabis community.

ResponsibleOhioans propose that marijuana be legalized for all adults age 18 and older. Adults could possess 99 kilograms (218 lbs.) and cultivate 99 plants for personal use.  Urine testing for cannabis metabolites as a condition of employment would be banned. Mere presence of metabolites or active cannabinoids alone could not be used as proof of impairment. The rights to organ transplant, child custody, healthcare, government assistance, bearing arms, and banking could not be denied to marijuana consumers and producers. All marijuana prisoners would be released from correctional supervision and their records expunged, and all probation and parole violators sent back to prison for failing marijuana tests would be released as well. It couldn’t be a more activist-friendly amendment if it declared Jack Herer’s birthday a paid state holiday.

Then there are Ohioans to End Prohibition at LegalizeOhio2016.org, coming in somewhere between the business and activist poles. While the text of their Cannabis Control Amendment is also missing, this group claims it would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older, as well as creating a medical marijuana ID card that provides for untaxed purchases. Adults would be allowed to home grow, but no specific plant count is mentioned. Any adult or corporation could apply to grow, process, or sell marijuana products through a merit-based application process that includes out-of-state investment. LegalizeOhio makes no mention of limits on licensing aside from the “market will dictate” how may licenses are issued. Marijuana would be taxed, but again, no specifics, and localities could ban marijuana commerce though a popular vote. Industrial hemp would also be legalized.

In addition to three legalization campaigns, there is also an “Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment” pushed by the Ohio Rights Group at OhioRights.org. This amendment would legalize only medical use of marijuana in Ohio for the usual conditions found in most other medical marijuana states.  Medical consumers would be free to possess and cultivate marijuana “sufficient to meet their therapeutic needs.” A commercial system of growers and dispensaries would be created. Industrial hemp would be made legal. Patients could not be considered legally impaired for the presence of metabolites in their body.

Great ideas and grassroots support alone will not get legalization onto the 2016 ballot in Ohio. The 800lb. gorilla so far is ResponsibleOhio. Will the other three groups continue their quixotic quests for perfect legalization or will they combine resources to provide an effective single counter-proposal? We used to have to deal with not having enough money and supporters to get a single proposal voted on. Now it seems we have too much money and too many supporters with competing ideas that may end up dooming them all.

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