CLEVELAND, Ohio — It’s about to be “game on” in Ohio for a big debate over legalizing marijuana use and competing proposals to do that.
A heavily Cleveland-based organization called Ohioans to End Prohibition is fast-tracking its entry onto the public stage to try and head off the proposal of a competing group.
Lawyer Jacob Wagner says OTEP is largely made up of young professionals in Northeast Ohio.
“Our goal is to create a vibrant marketplace for legal cannabis in Ohio, a fair marketplace in Ohio,” he said.
Its plan would legalize marijuana for medicinal and personal use for adults over 21. There would be no limits on who could grow pot.
And the issue would be on the ballot in November 2016 if needed signatures can be gathered and approved.
Wagner acknowledges the group also has connections to the legal marijuana industry in other states and pro-marijuana advocacy groups.
One estimate is that legal marijuana could be a $1 billion to $1.5 billion industry in Ohio, so there’s lots of money to be made.
Twenty-seven states have either legalized some form of marijuana or decriminalized its possession.
OTEP’s plan would use revenue from taxes and license fees to strengthen Ohio’s public pension systems and help pay for drug education programs and medical assistance for those coping with addiction.
The group is going public about six months earlier than it wanted. The proposed ballot measure’s details are still being written.
But the group wants to raise doubts about a rival group’s proposal already being discussed .
ResponsibleOhio wants to legalize pot for medicinal and personal use but limit pot providers and production to 10 tightly regulated and heavily taxed growing sites. It wants to be on the ballot this year.
OTEP and other critics say that’s creating a self-serving monopoly, much like casino operators did in writing gambling legislation passed by voters.
ResponsibleOhio’s spokesperson, Lydia Bolander says, “This will be a job-creating entity for Ohio and end the failing prohibition that we’re all living with right now.”
Wagner claims, “The 10 licenses, they want to create de facto cannabis monopolies. Some people call them cartels. … It’s clearly not a good deal for the voters of Ohio. … We really don’t want them to get on the ballot.”
He says ResponsibleOhio is “very well entrenched politically in the state. They’re very well endowed financially.””
OTEP has prospective donors lined up if the group can establish its credibility, according to Wagner.
He says he and other OTEP members are doing this for reasons other than money.
“All of us have lost people to heroin. We’ve lost people to prescription drugs. We’ve lost people to pills. … All of us know people who are sick who could benefit from medical cannabis. It’s very personal. We’re very passionate about what we’re doing,” he said.
There will be a lot of passion in this debate. Multiple groups are poised to fight against any legalization of marijuana in Ohio..
A countdown clock on ResponsibleOhio’s website suggests it will talk more about its plans next week.
There’ve been multiple reports suggesting that politically-active businessman Tony George is or will be a big financial supporter of the group.
Friday he said “I’m not involved now.” Beyond that, “I have no comment.”
A third organization, the Ohio Rights Group, has been seeking an amendment to legalize marijuana exclusively for medical and therapeutic use.
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