Groups that think they can gather signatures in grassroots fashion are high.
CLEVELAND, Ohio — Ohio’s newest drug cartel is a group of largely Democratic activists and businessman known as ResponsibleOhio.
Don’t let the name fool you. The group is secretive and driven by self-interest, even if its goal is to legalize marijuana use for all in Ohio.
Legalization is worthy of discussion and could potentially provide social and economic benefits to the state. The problem is that ResponsibleOhio wants to change the Ohio Constitution to allow a select group of unidentified people to control the growing of pot.
Sounds like a cartel to me.
The only public statement to date from these stealthy folks has been a press release issued after the Northeast Ohio Media Group broke the story about their nascent campaign to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use.
“We will have 10 tightly regulated, heavily taxed growing locations,” spokeswoman Lydia Bolander said in the Dec. 19 release. “Small business owners will be able to create good jobs and open retail locations with the approval of local voters so we are ensuring local control for communities.”
The group has been quietly building its cartel for months. It remains unclear who exactly are the lead organizers. But they demanded silence from those they reached out to, requiring some advisers and interested parties involved in conversations to sign agreements to not talk about the plans.
The cartel created 10 groups and sold shares to select investors. Each group has secured commitments, or shares, worth about $2 million, according to people who spoke on the condition they are not identified for fear of offending the cartel. Attracting investors is critical to pay for the campaign, which would likely cost $20 million or more. The investors would be rewarded with pot profits.
As I’ve noted before, by inserting into the Ohio Constitution specific parcels on which marijuana can be produced – and therefore limiting who can profit – the approach is similar to the one gaming interests used in their successful 2009 campaign to legalize casino-style gambling in Ohio. The casino amendment, known on the ballot as Issue 3, limited gaming to just four locations in Ohio. The people who controlled the locations invested in the campaign and get profits.
Many smart campaign people are managing this pot proposal. Lawyers Donald McTigue and Mark McGinnis are handling the paperwork, according to state records. Ian James of the Strategy Network gave the campaign shape and will lead efforts to get voter signatures on petitions required to win ballot approval, sources say. James did not return my calls.
Only a campaign that pays people to gather signatures will succeed. (Groups that think they can gather signatures in grassroots fashion are high.) Democratic consultant Dennis Willard’s firm, Precision New Media, is the cartel’s mouthpiece. Willard is also the interim spokesman for new Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish’s administration. (Budish, by the way, does not yet have an opinion on whether legalized access to pot would be good for county residents. Oh, but think of the new tax revenue!)
The cartel wants to talk about why we need to legalize marijuana. I want to first know who wants to legalize it and what they stand to gain. So, here are the questions I posed and the answers I received.
Where are the 10 growing locations?
Who owns or has a financial interest in the growing locations?
Were ownership shares sold for the locations?
Who is paying for the campaign?
Why is ResponsibleOhio not releasing the names of people behind the campaign, and, more to the point, the people who stand to benefit financially from such an amendment?
When will the public learn the names of the people who have financial interests in the amendment?
When will the ballot language be released?
Has there been any agreement to shield the identities of those with financial interests?
What consultants are working with ResponsibleOhio on the campaign?
Bolander did offer this general response.
“We’re not saying anything at this time other than what we have already released,” she said in an email. “But we will have more information in the near future.”
I hope the campaign talks soon.
Until then, it will continue to look and act like a cartel.