COLUMBUS, Ohio — Backers of a new constitutional amendment that would legalize marijuana production, sale, possession and use in Ohio are banking on the success of a similar amendment that already is working its way to the state ballot to help their cause.
It even uses the 10 properties that the ResponsibleOhio issue locks in as growing sites as points of reference.
Better for Ohio’s issue arose out of dissatisfaction with the proposal ResponsibleOhio now is circulating petitions for in an attempt to get on November’s ballot. Key among those were concerns that only 10 growing sites, already predetermined, would be allowed and that the state could create a database of people who registered to home-grow, said Ed Howard, a Toledo businessman who chairs Better for Ohio.
But backers looked at ResponsibleOhio and concluded that not only will it gather the more than 305,000 signatures from registered voters needed to reach the ballot. They also believe it has the financial horsepower needed for success, Howard said.
With that as its starting premise, Better for Ohio sought to mimic ResponsibleOhio’s amendment, with some modifications — changes that Howard describes as better for Ohio.
Among those modifications: The issue would allow for four times the growing sites, home-grow provisions that don’t require state registration and provisions to promote green-energy at high-energy-using growing sites.
The hope, Howard says, is to get on the ballot and then seek votes, perhaps with support of ReponsibleOhio, for both issues.
“It’s structured so that once they see the light and realize the situation, they can slide over and support this one instead,” Howard said. “It was specifically structured and designed so that once it gets on the ballot, they could eat a humble pie and do the right thing.”
Not so fast, ResponsibleOhio responded.
“We ask this group to do the right thing and formally endorse our amendment, joining with the over 160,000 Ohioans who have signed our petition so far,” said spokeswoman Lydia Bolander. “Our proposal is the only way to smother the black market while providing patients with the compassionate care of medical marijuana for treatment and creating tens of thousands of new jobs for Ohioans.
“Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery. This unofficial endorsement reflects what we’ve known all along – that ResponsibleOhio will qualify for the ballot this November and will pass the Marijuana Legalization Amendment,” Bolander said.
Howard, who describes himself as a Libertarian, said part of the dissatisfaction that led to creation of Better for Ohio was that the ResponsibleOhio amendment would limit growing to 10 sites that will go to specific investors.
Each of those sites has been purchased or optioned so it will be permanently owned by an investor group. The investor groups, registered in Ohio as limited liability companies, have also donated $1.7 million to the campaign, which spent nearly $1.3 million before making public its amendment language, according to state campaign finance records.
ResponsibleOhio officials have said they expect to spend more than $20 million to get their constitutional amendment on the ballot and run their campaign.
Better for Ohio would require growing to remain in the vicinity of those properties, but growers have not been determined yet.
But that’s one area where the issue gets a bit quirky.
Written into the Better for Ohio’s amendment are provisions that would restrict the right to grow at 10 sites and 30 smaller ones to the holders of specific $100 bills. The serial numbers of those bills are written into the amendment.
Howard said it has not yet been determined how those 40 bills would be distributed. That will be determined, he said, with the help of lawyers if the issue clears the initial review steps.
But Howard also acknowledged that if the issue clears the initial review, Better for Ohio will be looking for investors who can help fund the signature drive and possible election campaign.
For now, though, the $100 bills — 40 in total — are locked away in a safe, he said.
Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected Better for Ohio’s initial text submission on Friday.
DeWine’s role at this point is to certify whether the summary of the amendment is a fair and truthful statement of the amendment itself. He cited technical flaws in the summary language in support of his rejection.
Howard said the group worked over the weekend to correct the technical issues and began collecting 1,000 new signatures it will need to resubmit its proposal. Its new language could be turned in to DeWine’s office sometime this week.
If the issue clears DeWine’s review, the Ohio Ballot Board would then study it to determine if it is one issue. If it signs off, then Better for Ohio could begin collecting signatures toward getting on the ballot.
Those would have to be submitted to the Ohio secretary of state by July.