COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohioans could have multiple choices to support legalizing marijuana at the ballot box.
A Cleveland-based group calling itself Ohioans to End Prohibition announced Thursday it plans to propose a constitutional amendment on a 2016 ballot that would legalize recreational and medicinal marijuana use. Unlike a proposal announced last month, the group’s “Cannabis Control Amendment” would not limit marijuana production to a certain number of chosen locations.
“Any amendment that might consolidate the prospective economic power of a legal cannabis market in the hands of a chosen few is a raw deal for the people of Ohio,” Ohioans to End Prohibition President Sri Kavuru and attorney Jacob Wagner wrote in a press release sent early Thursday morning. “Revenues from taxes and licensing would be catastrophically lower than they might otherwise be. The black market would persist, crime rates and incarceration rates would remain on their current trajectory, and deaths from drug overdoses would decline marginally at best.”
Revenue from taxes and licensing fees would fund Ohio’s public pension systems, drug education programs, and medical treatment for those suffering from addiction, according to an outline of the proposal on the group’s website.
Ohioans to End Prohibition planned to announce its plan this spring, according to the release, but was prompted to act early after reports surfaced another group was planning an amendment for the November 2015 ballot.
A spokeswoman for that group, ResponsibleOhio, said their amendment would legalize recreational and medicinal marijuana for adults over age 21 and limit production to “10 tightly regulated, heavily taxed growing locations.” Tax revenue would fund “vital public services” in local communities.
“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,” ResponsibleOhio’s Lydia Bolander said then in a press release.
Similarly, Ohio voters authorized legal gambling in 2009, but at four specific locations.
Selecting up to 10 growers creates a constitutional monopoly, according to Ohioans to End Prohibition, and they say Ohioans should have a choice.
“They don’t have to let themselves be bullied into voting for de facto legal cannabis monopolies,” Kavuru and Wagner wrote. “It can be open. It can be transparent. It can be intelligently regulated. Ohio can be home to a vibrant legal cannabis market. There is a better way, and OTEP is confident that Ohio voters will agree.”
Neither group has passed the first hurdle in the initiated statute process, which requires supporters to submit 1,000 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters and constitutionally-sound ballot language to the state attorney general.
Once language is approved, the groups would need to collect more than 305,591 valid signatures — meeting a threshold from 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties.
Recent proposals to legalize marijuana for medical treatment have failed to collect enough signatures or raise enough money to hire signature gatherers and run a successful campaign.
A February 2014 Quinnipiac University poll of Ohio voters found 87 percent support the use of medical marijuana while only 11 percent oppose. Ohio voters also narrowly approve of allowing adults to possess small amounts of the drug for personal use — 51 percent in favor, 44 percent opposed.