The organizers of the movement to make marijuana a legal drug in Ohio are expressing stronger confidence that 2015 will be the breakthrough year.
Opponents believe Ohioans aren’t ready for legalized pot and would vote it down, provided they have all the facts in front of them.
Whichever way the battle goes, it is bound to be a hard-fought part of the culture wars in virtually every section of the Buckeye State this spring, summer and perhaps autumn as well.
It is currently a crime to knowingly or intentionally possess pot in Ohio.
But Ian James, of a group called Responsible Ohio, is out to change that. He was making the rounds in Cincinnati Monday trying to line up support.
“It will absolutely, positively be on the ballot,” James stated with confidence in front of the Hamilton County Courthouse.
Next week, he and others will start collecting signatures to legalize the drug for both medical and recreational use.
Responsible Ohio would need 305,000 signatures by July 1 to qualify for a November vote.
If approved, pot would be legal for anyone 21 or older.
James knows Ohio’s track record of previous signature-gathering efforts fell woefully short of his goal. He has tilled some financial soil and put together an aggressive apparatus for a fresh run at legalization.
“A lot of issues have fallen short, because they don’t have the money. They don’t have the organization,” he said. “We’re fully funded. We have the organization. We have professionals involved.”
John Burke, who once led the Ohio Task Force Commanders Association and currently heads the Warren County Drug Task Force, is staunchly opposed to the new effort.
“It’s not a good idea for Ohio, and hopefully we can get that message across,” Burke said.
Burke emphasized that he is not opposed to using part of the Cannabis plant for medication. But he is against bypassing Food and Drug Administration approval and a physician’s script for a drug with abuse issues, suggesting it’s a prescription for worsening a societal problem.
“So instead of Walgreens, CVS or whoever dispensing this, we’re going to have these shops, so called, which end up in the ones I’ve seen to be basically head shops,” he said.
Responsible Ohio wants a constitutional amendment that would establish a three-tiered system of drug regulation.
Ten wholesale grow facilities would be licensed around the state, including one in Hamilton County, to grow the plant. Certified manufacturers would sell the product to retailers.
Marijuana retail stores would be established along the lines of the alcohol sales permitting process. A flat 15 percent state marijuana tax would be imposed.
The petitions and the persuasions are about to begin in earnest.
“(Ohioans) understand that we need to get our head out of the sand and move forward with regulation of marijuana,” James said.
Burke is moving forward with ways to counter what he foresees as a well-financed legalization campaign.
“(There will be) severe consequences when you look at what has happened in Colorado, and it’ll happen here only on a bigger scale. We have a lot more people here,” Burke said.
Newly-elected State Sen. Cecil Thomas couldn’t help but muse about the cultural shift that has occurred in the past decade. He recalls a time when a legalization proposal would have been an automatic non-starter in Ohio.
Now he sees an open discussion about it and serious consideration. Thomas doesn’t know if Ohioans will be receptive or not this year.
But Thomas said if enough signatures are collected, a public vote on it represents what democracy is all about.
“I have no problem with that,” Thomas said.