Thursday, January 21, 2016
As reported in this local article, headlined "National marijuana group plans Ohio medical marijuana amendment for 2016 ballot," big and notable marijuana reform news keeps on coming in the Buckeye State. Here are the basics and the context:
A major national player in the marijuana legalization movement plans to put an Ohio medical marijuana measure on the November ballot.
Marijuana Policy Project, based in Washington D.C., plans to propose a constitutional amendment establishing a medical marijuana system similar to those in 23 other states and the District of Columbia, according to the organization's website. The Ohio amendment would allow people with certain "serious medical conditions" to purchase marijuana from retail stores or grow their own after obtaining physician approval. The state would license businesses to grow, process, test, and sell marijuana to approved patients.
MPP led successful recreational marijuana initiative efforts in Colorado and Alaska and medical marijuana measures in Michigan, Montana, and Arizona. The organization has also worked with state legislatures to write medical marijuana laws.
Grassroots marijuana legalization efforts have struggled to qualify for the ballot in Ohio because they lack the money to hire signature gatherers and run a robust education campaign. Ohio has not been on the radar for MPP and other major funders looking to expand legal marijuana. Last year, MPP quietly supported Issue 3, Ohio's failed recreational marijuana amendment, but did not advertise its support or contribute to the campaign.
ResponsibleOhio, the political action committee backing Issue 3, was the first pro-marijuana group to collect the large number of signatures required, spending more than $20 million on its campaign. But the amendment limited the 10 commercial growing licenses to groups of campaign investors and would have legalized recreational marijuana, which divided Ohio's pro-pot advocates and attracted hundreds of opponents statewide.
MPP has not formally announced its 2016 effort, but it posted a job opening Wednesday evening for an Ohio-based campaign manager. The posting says much of the campaign will be subcontracted through a consulting firm in Columbus. It was not known Wednesday evening whether that firm would be the Strategy Network, which collected signatures for and ran the Issue 3 campaign. Strategy Network founder Ian James co-founded ResponsibleOhio and was the face of the campaign.
James' co-founder Jimmy Gould and Issue 3 author Chris Stock said last week they are not working on any ballot initiatives this year and instead want to work with state lawmakers to legalize medical marijuana.
This job posting on the MPP website provides additional information on what MPP has in mind for Ohio in 2016, and here is a paragraph from that posting:
The 2016 campaign — which is formally led by the new “Ohioans for Medical Marijuana” (OMM) that’s coordinated by MPP’s headquarters in Washington, D.C. — is focusing only on medical marijuana, which enjoys a high level of support among Ohio voters. If passed by a majority of Ohio voters on November 8, this initiative would legalize medical marijuana in a manner that’s similar to the laws in 23 states and the District of Columbia.
The development strikes me as HUGE news in the marijuana reform arena, not just for Ohio but also for various nationwide interests. My sense has always been that MPP will not get involved in a state initiative effort unless and until (1) it has significant funding to support its work, and (2) it feels pretty confident it can and will prevail at the ballot. So the fact MPP now had resources and confidence for an expensive marijuana reform effort in a swing state in 2016 suggests it believes the Buckeye State is very ready to move away from blanket prohibition.
Not to be overlooked, a big medical marijuana reform initiative effort in swing state Ohio could (and perhaps would) impact voter turn out in significant ways in a state that Prez candidates always want to carry and that has a significant Senate seat in play. Indeed, I am inclined to guess that MPP got at least part of its funding for this Ohio effort not only from traditional marijuana reform supporters, but also from deep-pocketed supporters of Democratic candidates. Interesting times!!
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