Pubdate: Sun, 25 Jan 2015
Source: Dayton Daily News (OH)
Copyright: 2015 Dayton Daily News
Author: Laura A. Bischoff


If Ballot Issue Passes, State Would Go From Ban to Full Legalization.

COLUMBUS - An ambitious plan backed by deep-pocketed financiers and 
experienced political operatives aims to cut a new path to legalizing 
marijuana - and it is drawing opposition even before ResponsibleOhio 
has publicly released all its details.

If voters approve ResponsibleOhio's ballot issue in November, Ohio 
could become the first state in the country to go from a complete ban 
to full legalization, skipping the typical step of first authorizing 
medical marijuana. Efforts are underway to do the same in Missouri.

ResponsibleOhio Executive Director Ian James said it is disingenuous 
to campaign for medical marijuana if the ultimate goal is full 
legalization. "It's a fig leaf approach. It's not honest," he said. 
"It is far better for Ohio voters to understand that you can have 
medicinal use and personal use at the same time and that they have 
significant and far-reaching benefits."

Chris Lindsey of the Marijuana Policy Project, a national non-profit 
that advocates for liberalizing cannabis laws, said ResponsibleOhio's 
plan is unusual in several other ways. For example:

The group is pushing a ballot issue in an off election year, rather 
than during a presidential election when voter turnout is highest;

The proposal specifies that the marijuana can be grown only in 10 
sites, and the owners of those sites would include backers of the 
amendment; and

Campaign organizers are coming from the business world, not the 
marijuana grassroots world.

"This is the first time we've ever seen folks who are business 
interests driving this," Lindsey said.

James, the CEO of Columbus-based political consulting firm The 
Strategy Network, said the time is now for legal pot in Ohio.

"The public is really ahead of the politicians on this," said James, 
whose company has worked on high-profile statewide issues such as gay 
marriage and casinos. "It is very clear from our polling that Ohio 
voters know that prohibition has failed. They're tired of wasting an 
estimated $120 million a year to enforce a failed prohibition. 
They're tired of seeing people who are non-violent offenders being 
locked up. And Ohio voters believe that if we regulate properly and 
we tax heavily and we provide the opportunities of employment for 
Ohioans to own and operate these retail stores and manufacturing, 
then they're willing to reform Ohio's marijuana laws."

James acknowledged that the Ohio of 10 years ago wouldn't have gone 
for this. But, he said, "clearly attitudes have changed."

So far, 19 states and the District of Columbia have legalized medical 
marijuana and four states - Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon - 
have legalized both medical and personal use, according to the 
Marijuana Policy Project.

Nationwide, the pot industry is estimated to be worth $10 billion to 
$100 billion and in Ohio analysts believe it is between $1 billion 
and $4 billion.

Pot gains favor

Legalizing pot, particularly for medical reasons, is gaining favor 
among voters. A poll by Quinnipiac University released in February 
2014 found that 87 percent of Ohio voters support allowing adults to 
use marijuana if it's prescribed by their doctors and 51percent 
support adults possessing small amounts of pot for personal use.

The same poll found that 45 percent of Ohio voters think legalizing 
marijuana was bad for Colorado's national image, 83 percent say pot 
is less or equally dangerous as alcohol and 51 percent don't believe 
marijuana leads to other drug use.

ResponsibleOhio plans to submit ballot language this week or the 
following week that will detail its campaign to legalize cultivation, 
distribution and sales of cannabis to Ohioans ages 21 and older.

But already the group is seeing opposition from political 
powerhouses. Gov. John Kasich opposes legalizing marijuana on his 
watch; the Drug Free Action Alliance calls the proposal a scheme to 
create a drug cartel; and Fraternal Order of Police President Jay 
McDonald said, "We are going to examine it. I'll tell you, the 
marijuana crowd will have a big hurdle to clear to get us to stay 
neutral or support it."

Specific details about the group's plans have also met resistance, 
including a provision limiting growing to 10 sites. If that doesn't 
meet the demand after four years, a seven member Marijuana Control 
Commission may add a single license per year.

That restriction might not sit well with the Ohio Farm Bureau. The 
group has yet to take a position, but spokesman Joe Cornely said the 
bureau generally favors a free market and increasing opportunities 
for all farmers.

Grassroots organizers who have long toiled on the pot legalization 
question also do not welcome ResponsibleOhio.

"Don't sign it. Don't fund it. Don't vote for it," said Michael 
Revercomb, of Ohioans to End Prohibition, which is working on a 
different pot issue that he hopes to place on the November 2016 ballot.

'Whatever it takes to win'

Ohio Rights Group, a campaign for legalizing medical marijuana in 
Ohio, has collected 150,000 of the 305,600 required signatures to 
place its issue on the November 2015 ballot. Ohio Rights Group 
incoming president Carlis McDermet and Revercomb both said 
ResponsibleOhio's structure will give a monopoly to a handful of growers.

None of the groups in Ohio have the backing of the Marijuana Policy 
Project, which has backed or led seven successful statewide pot 
ballot issues across the country. MPP only runs ballot questions in 
presidential election years and next year is targeting Arizona, 
California, Massachusetts, Maine and Nevada.

Lindsey of the MPP said ResponsibleOhio seems to have the financial 
backing and political organization needed to bring an issue to Oho's ballot.

"My guess would be that they're not overly concerned with the other 
groups because it is such a high bar. It is a very difficult thing to 
get on the ballot," he said. "You have to be very well funded and 
very well organized." James said they are just that. "We will spend 
whatever it takes to win," he said.

John Burke, commander of the Warren County Drug Task Force, said "I 
truly think if the residents of Ohio hear the facts and know the 
truth, they'll soundly defeat this. But that's going to be the issue 
- - us being able to get out the other side of the story."

In November 2012, 55 percent of Colorado voters said yes to 
legalizing adult use of recreational marijuana, despite political 
opposition from the governor, attorney general and law enforcement. 
Colorado, which began pot sales Jan. 1, 2014, rolled out a system for 
growing, tracking, testing and selling marijuana to adults.

A report by the Center for Effective Public Management at the 
Brookings Institute gave Colorado high marks for a smooth rollout but 
said the system is not without its problems. It is mostly a cash 
business - since federal law still prohibits marijuana sales, credit 
cards and electronic banking can't be used. There are concerns over 
the potency and serving sizes of edible marijuana products. And there 
is no state oversight of the product safety and quality of homegrow pot.

Shops with names like Starbuds, The Happy Camper Cannabis Co. and 
Rocky Mountain High have sprung up across the state. And Colorado has 
collected $44 million in tax revenues in the first 11months of the program.

James said the same could happen in Ohio.

"Let's not kid ourselves. There are billions of dollars of marijuana 
sold in Ohio and there is no tax benefit to it currently," James 
said. "If we legalize it, regulate it and test it and tax it, Ohio 
will benefit from it."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom