Responsible Ohio is one group of several that is in the process of launching a ballot initiative that aims to legalize marijuana in Ohio. Of the initiatives that we are aware of, this one is the most controversial of the bunch because it would essentially create a monopoly of legal growers in the state and forbid home growing. It would also prohibit commercial farming of hemp, which would be a boon to the state’s agriculture sector. Responsible Ohio is also shrouded in mystery, as the key players backing the initiative and those who will benefit most from the initiative’s passage have been kept under wraps.
The paperwork that was filed with the Ohio Secretary of State to legally establish Responsible Ohio and Responsible Ohio PAC as trade names and official entities in June 2014 was drafted and submitted by Mark McGinnis of the law firm of McTigue & McGinnis. Don McTigue has been the go-to attorney for the Ohio Democratic Party for the past two decades or more, and McGinnis counts among his clients former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich and U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown. When they get involved with an initiative, they mean business.
The driving force behind this initiative is said to be Ian James, who makes a living launching constitutional amendment campaigns. James was also a key player in bringing the parties together to pass the 2009 casino amendment which granted a monopoly on casinos in the state. Under the agreement, just four casinos were to be permitted in Ohio – one in Cleveland, another in Columbus, a third in Cincinnati, and a fourth in Toledo. James was instrumental in bringing all the parties together at the table. The Responsible Ohio group is taking cues from the casino initiative’s tactics, adopting their monopolization philosophy.
James is also currently behind a constitutional amendment initiative – Freedom to Marry Ohio – that would legalize same-sex marriages in the state. He serves as the executive director of this campaign, which is endorsed by Precision New Media, a public relations agency owned by Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish’s spokesman, Dennis Williard. Williard’s employee, Lydia Bolander, was the first person to have been quoted about the existence of Responsible Ohio.
One notable backer of Responsible Ohio, reveals our source, is businessman David Bruno, who also has ties to Hamilton County Commissioner and frequent gubernatorial candidate Todd Portune, who has in the past supported the decriminalization of marijuana. Bruno owns several businesses in Ohio, including Sterling China USA and PRG LLC. Bruno and Portune are close friends going back to their time as student-athletes at Oberlin College.
Another huge name involved with Responsible Ohio that we have been able to confirm through multiple credible sources is prominent Ohio businessman Tony George, who is also one of the state’s biggest political fundraisers. His company, The George Group, has been involved with Responsible Ohio for some time. We reached out to George for comment on his involvement with the initiative, and he provided us with the following statement:
“The George Group is considering involvement in Responsible Ohio, and will make its decision based on if the constitutional amendment language benefits the citizens of the state of Ohio.”
With a backer like George involved, and others with similarly deep pockets, it’s obvious that Responsible Ohio is going to be very well funded. It will face harsh criticism for the monopolistic nature of its proposed amendment, but the group has the funds to spend liberally on marketing that will attempt to convince the masses that a monopoly approach is the best and safest approach to the legalization of marijuana in Ohio.
The full language of the proposed amendment is due to be revealed in about one week, at which time we’ll be able to analyze it more comprehensively. Responsible Ohio’s website, located at ResponsibleOhio.com, prominently features a countdown clock, which is presumably a countdown to when the amendment will be revealed.
Taking all of this into consideration, Responsible Ohio looks to be an establishment-driven attempt by experienced, well-known individuals who know how to rig a game to write its funders names into the Ohio constitution as the sole, legally permissible growers of marijuana in the state of Ohio. They see that the majority public opinion in Ohio has shifted in favor of legalizing marijuana, and the piles of cash that would come along with legalizing it. Instead of spreading the wealth around, however, Responsible Ohio seeks to keep the riches and the power in the hands of a select few.
Part 2 of a multi-part series.
Part 1: The Race to Legalize Marijuana in Ohio is On
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