Ten wealthy investors who want to become the titans of weed in Ohio have pushed real potheads to the back of the party bus as they work to win voter approval of a proposal to legalize marijuana in the Buckeye State.
Responsible Ohio is one of three groups pushing to get nearly 306,000 petition signatures by July to put their proposals on the November 2015 ballot. This group, led by sports agent James Gould, has put up $36 million— and has hired political professionals who know how to win elections.
Responsible Ohio’s proposal would allow people over the age of 21 to use pot and would legalize medical marijuana for minors with parental consent.
People over the age of 21 would also be able to get a growers license to grow up to four marijuana plants for their personal use. That is one for the potheads.
But what the other groups pushing for legalized pot don’t like is the provision that shows that the wealthy investors in Responsible Ohio want more of a return on their investment than just a good buzz at a decent post-election party.
They want to limit the commercial growth of marijuana to 10 sites owned by the investors who are behind the Responsible Ohio ballot campaign.
Keith Stroup, an attorney with the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), told the Cincinnati Enquirer it is important to remember the Ohio residents who have spent decades fighting to legalize weed.
He doesn’t want them swept aside like so many unwanted seeds and stems.
“These people have invested their lives and taken great risks to get us to where we are today,” he said. “We would like the market to be open to small-and mid-growers, not just the big guys.”
A December 2014 editorial in the Cleveland Plain Dealer said Responsible Ohio’s proposal would create “an anticompetitive constitutional monopoly aimed at enriching a tiny number of landowners” and concluded it “seems like the exact wrong way to go about any conceivable legislation.”
Still, Stroup said if Responsible Ohio is able to get this proposal on the November ballot and the other organizations failed in their endeavors, NORML would probably support it.
This is highly unusual. NORML is never put in this kind of position. But to borrow a business cliche, Responsible Ohio has changed the paradigm of the way marijuana initiatives have been run in other states.
Small- and mid-sized growers, along with people who just like to smoke pot, usually team up with NORML or another national organization like the Marijuana Policy Project to get their proposal on a ballot and hopefully round up enough votes to win. In other words, grass-roots organizations, with the accent on grass.
“Grass-roots” is a description that pretty much covers the other two organizations pushing marijuana reform in Ohio. They are circulating petitions in opposition to the Responsible Ohio proposal.
The Ohio Rights Group has petitions on the streets asking for a slot on the ballot for the Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment. It would allow the medical and “therapeutic” use of cannabis and industrial hemp. People would be allowed to grow what they need in their homes. Commercial sales would be regulated but not limited to just a few growers.
The End Cannabis Prohibition Act is proposed by Responsible Ohioans. It would allow for anyone over the age of 18 to grow up to 24 plants for their personal use. The Ohio Legislature would create a licensing process for commercial growers, who would not be limited to those who put money into the petition campaign.
The End Cannabis Prohibition proposal isn’t on the street yet. Well, it was for a while but it had to be pulled back. Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected the proposal’s language in March. But Tonya Davis, one of the leaders of Responsible Ohioans, said they are trying again.
Assuming at least one of these proposals to legalize marijuana earns a space on the November ballot, the next challenge will be to sway enough voters to vote “yes.” That might not be easy.
A Quinnipiac University poll released April 6 showed a slim 52-44 percent margin of support in Ohio for the concept of allowing adults to possess small amounts of marijuana for their own use.
Legalizing medical marijuana was supported by a much wider margin, 84-14 percent.
Here’s another problem: The idea that the losers of this petition race will embrace the winner if that victor turns out to be Responsible Ohio is a false assumption.
Neither Davis nor John Pardee, one of the leaders of the Ohio Rights Group, has much good to say about Responsible Ohio.
Pardee told the Cincinnati Enquirer the Responsible Ohio proposal would set a “very dangerous precedent.”
Davis said she can’t stand the idea of allowing only 10 wealthy investors to grow all of Ohio’s marijuana, as proposed in the Responsible Ohio proposition.
“That just drives me nuts. I think it’s just going to create another class of criminal,” she said. “These folks that are coming in know nothing about cannabis. They just have the money.”