Pubdate: Thu, 25 Jun 2015
Source: Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Copyright: 2015 The Columbus Dispatch
Author: Alan Johnson


Leading up to a November ballot-box showdown over marijuana 
legalization, ResponsibleOhio is suited up, on the field, and has 
lots of strength on the bench.

The opposition, meanwhile, isn't near the stadium, has no uniforms 
and lacks enough players to even field a team.

If nothing else, the marijuana legalization debate shows that 
ResponsbileOhio is no fly-bynight organization of potheads.

It's a diverse, business-oriented team that includes veteran 
Republican strategist Neil Clark and 270 Strategies, a group which 
helped run President Barack Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.

ResponsibleOhio's $20 million game plan, from inception to election, 
is outlined in a 50-page campaign prospectus sent last year to 
potential investors.

The bottom line is the bottom line: big financial profits. The lure 
to investors, now in place, is a front-row seat for a lucrative, 
legalized marijuana market in Ohio - and maybe elsewhere.

"Winning in the battleground state of Ohio will have an incredibly 
positive impact on the Midwest and nation," the document says. "Being 
on the front line of a projected $1 billion + annual sale potential 
is one thing. But being able to replicate this victory everywhere 
else places the Principal Founders (investors) in a stronger position 
for return on investment in other ventures."

There is no organized, well-funded opposition to the issue at this 
point, even though Gov. John Kasich and the other four nonjudicial 
state officeholders are against legalization.

Three ResponsibleOhio investors from central Ohio made their first 
public appearances on Wednesday at a news conference at which they 
signed an agreement to allow marijuana workers to choose to unionize. 
About 300 people are expected eventually to be employed at each site.

Dr. Saresh Gupta, a Dayton physician, said he will devote 90 percent 
of his 35-acre site at 6197 Mink St. in Pataskala, in Licking County, 
to marijuana for medicinal purposes.

"We look forward to providing much-needed medical marijuana for 
people with debilitating diseases," he said, adding that the 
marijuana could be used by cancer patients or those with Alzheimer's 
disease, post-traumatic stress disorder and other ailments.

Gupta, who said he wants to be a "good neighbor" to those around his 
marijuana operation, was joined by investors Rick Kirk, a developer 
who is funding a 19.1-acre site on Seeds Road in Grove City, south of 
I-71 and north of Zuber Road, and Jennifer Doering, investor in a 
25-acre site on Rt. 42 abutting the Delaware city limits in Concord 
Township, in Delaware County.

A total of about 345 acres statewide would be set aside for growing 
and processing marijuana if the ballot issue is successful. The other 
locations are in Butler, Clermont, Hamilton, Lorain, Lucas, Stark and 
Summit counties.

The Drug Free Action Alliance, a private organization which receives 
some state grant money, opposes the ResponsibleOhio plan. Marcie 
Seidel, executive director of the group, said of the ResponsibleOhio 
campaign, "To make the billions of dollars they are projecting, it 
must become huge commercialization exactly like big tobacco. Their 
slick campaign rhetoric touting an improved Ohio economy and caring 
for sick people and social justice is a ruse."

Although other individuals and organizations are discussing the 
marijuana debate behind the scenes, a well-funded opposition campaign 
has not developed, even though the election is just four months away.

State lawmakers, meanwhile, are working on an anti-monopoly 
constitutional amendment which they hope, if passed in November, 
would undercut marijuana legalization. ResponsibleOhio is expected to 
file a petition on July 1 with more than double the 305,591 
signatures of registered voters needed to get on the Nov. 3 ballot as 
a constitutional amendment. While Secretary of State Jon Husted 
raised concerns last week about some potentially fraudulent 
voter-registration forms to be submitted with the petition, the issue 
is almost certain to have sufficient signatures to reach the ballot this fall.

If approved by voters, the proposal would legalize sale of marijuana 
for personal and medical use, placing exclusive rights in the hands 
of 10 investment groups to establish growing sites around the state, 
including three in central Ohio.

The marijuana would be processed, regulated and sold at retail 
locations and medicalmarijuana dispensaries. Sales would be taxed at 
all levels, with revenue going mainly to local governments. There is 
a provision for individuals to be able to grow a small number of plants.

The campaign prospectus provides an inside look at the 
ResponsibleOhio team and the strategic plan it hopes will produce 
victory at the ballot box. It anticipates spending at least $7 
million on television and radio advertising, plus millions more on 
direct mail, social media, the lobbying of officials and grassroots 

A wide-ranging group of people has invested in the ResponsibleOhio 
plan, including former NBA star Oscar Robertson; real estate 
developer Kirk; NFL player Frostee Rucker; entrepreneur Sir Alan 
Mooney of Columbus; Cincinnati sports agent and businessman James 
Gould; pay-day lender executives William "Cheney" Pruett and John 
Humphrey; and Nick Lachey, former member of the boy band 98 Degrees.

ResponsibleOhio has an extensive campaign team beginning at the top 
with Ian James, Stephen Letourneau and Jeff Berding of the Strategy 
Network, consultants on the successful 2009 casino campaign and 
others. James will be paid nearly $6 million for his work.

Also on the team are Cincinnati attorneys Chris Stock and Paul 
DeMarco, who are providing legal advice and financial oversight; Neil 
Clark, the Republican strategist and governmentaffairs specialist 
from Grant Street Consulting in Columbus; James Kitchens, a 
public-opinion research and polling consultant; and Mitch Stewart and 
Jeremy Bird, of 270 Strategies, a data and analytics firm involved in 
Obama's 2012 re-election campaign.

While the ResponsibleOhio plan is deep with business details, the 
group has made enemies among other marijuana legalization supporters.

Bob Fitrakis, a longtime advocate and leader of the competing Ohio 
Rights Group, calls ResponsibleOhio "cannabis capitalists."

"Greed overcame them. They realized there were billions of dollars to 
be made here. These are people who have never been associated with 
decriminalization, medical marijuana, or hemp," he said.

Sri Kavuru, president of Ohioans to End Prohibition, another 
marijuana advocate, said the ResponsibleOhio plan is "well put 
together and clearly done by professionals."

"But it seems like it was conceived in a smoky backroom by a bunch of 
consultants who said, 'Let's go out and get some investors and we'll 
all make money.' We don't feel this is about legalization. It doesn't 
protect patients. It doesn't end arrests. It increases some penalties.

"It's all about making money," said Kavuru.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom