Monday, January 18, 2016
I was supportive of the failed (and very far from ideal) marijuana reform initiative campaign in Ohio in 2015 in part because the Ohio General Assembly had never before shown any serious interest in even considering any serious marijuana reform in the Buckeye State. But, as this local article highlights, the legislative times they are a-changing in 2016 already in Ohio. And the article, headlined "Strange Bedfellows Are Part Of New Medical Marijuana Task Force," reports that some folks involved in the failed 2015 initiative are being included in the new year developments:
Ohio lawmakers who have been signaling they want to consider medical marijuana legalization have taken an unexpected step. Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger stood in front of an interesting group of people when he announced there will be a task force to study medical marijuana in Ohio. “There’s a lot of groups that are going to have interest in this topic and what we have tried to do is put together a group of interested parties that can represent a broad swath of different interest groups throughout the state with different aspects and different varieties with an open mind to hear out this issue and talk about this issue before us in medical marijuana.”
That diverse group on this task force includes representatives from the Ohio State Medical Association, the Ohio Children’s Hospital’s Association, the Fraternal Order of Police, the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery. And there are two somewhat surprising members: Chris Stock and Jimmy Gould, former leaders of ResponsibleOhio, the group that brought forward the pot plan that voters overwhelmingly rejected last fall. Gould says he's glad to be working with the groups that had fought against Issue 3 last fall.
“Ohio needs medical marijuana, first and foremost and needs it for everything….for chronic pain, for conditions, but it needs to be regulated properly. It needs to be done the right way. We went from probably zero to 250 miles an hour in a state that it is a little difficult to go from zero to 100. I’m prepared to accept 100 right now and that is to pass a legislative action for medical marijuana.”
Gould says he’s agreed to put any effort to legalize marijuana on hold for now. And he says the Fresh Start plan, the initiative that would allow people with past non-violent marijuana offenses to clear their records, is dead for now. “You can’t expunge without having legalization. The voters knew that. They knew exactly what they were doing when they voted the way they voted. I had to hear them. We spent $25 million, we got defeated. And when you lose, you get back up on your feet and you take the best path that is available to you. When we were approached by several people and I approached several people, you know we want a victory out of this thing and the victory we want is what is good for Ohio and we have always wanted that.”
Just last month, Ian James, the man who headed up the failed ResponsibleOhio campaign, said investors of it wanted to go back to the ballot this fall with another legalization plan. The ResponsibleOhio campaign had been renamed Free Market Ohio and James said it was full speed ahead to collect petition signatures to put medical marijuana legalization on the ballot this fall. But Gould says moving forward with that right now is not the answer. “We didn’t just lose 51 to 49. We got beat. And I come from a competitive sports family and world and we got beat. And when you get beat that way, you come back and figure out, ok, what’s the next best way? FreeMarket Ohio was not the answer."
Republican State Representative Kirk Shuring will head up the task force. And he says while it will meet several times between now and the end of March, there is no promise of specific legislation. He says this task force is an opportunity for different groups of people with different ideas on the subject of marijuana to get together to try to find some common ground. “We have a time out and we are going to have a conversation and we are optimistic that it will lead to something we can point to at the end of March.”
Meanwhile, Ohio Senators plan to approach the issue of medical marijuana differently. Republican Senate Caucus Communications Director John Fortney says Republican Senator David Burke and Democratic Senator Kenny Yuko plan to hold a series of town hall meetings on medical marijuana in public forums throughout the state. “The people of Ohio are not interested in seeing the pill mill equivalent of medical marijuana on every street corner in the state of Ohio. That said, we understand that there is some support for what it can do for people who are suffering from chronic illness and I think that’s going to be part of the conversation from these public forums.”
I am encouraged (though not especially surprised) not only that (1) Ohio's elected officials now understand that they cannot and should no longer ignore the significant interest in marijuana reform amoung the citizenry, but also that (2) some state leaders are trying to co-opt into the effort persons who previously raised tens of millions of dollars to support reform in 2015. Thoughtout the 2015 reform effort in Ohio, I had an inkling that, even if the ResponsibleOhio's full legalization efforts went very badly (and it did), the conversations engendered and the monies raised through the reform effort would garner significant attention from significant public officials.
Notably, though, as this other local article details, the emergence of a medicial marijuana reform task force in Ohio is unlikely to completely quash interest and efforts for initiative-based reforms in the Buckeye state in the months ahead. The article is headlined "Ohio marijuana legalization supporters still push for 2016 ballot issues," and here are excerpts:
ResponsibleOhio won't be back with another marijuana legalization amendment this year, but marijuana advocates said Friday they will push forward with ballot measures for November as well as work with state lawmakers studying medical marijuana legalization.
Legalize Ohio 2016, also known as Ohioans to End Prohibition, plans to continue to try to collect the 305,591 signatures of registered Ohio voters necessary by July 6 to qualify its issue for the November ballot. Its proposed constitutional amendment would legalize recreational and medical marijuana, as well as allow farmers to grow hemp.
Legalize Ohio 2016 President Sri Kavuru said his group will encourage its supporters to be involved in discussions at the Statehouse on the medical marijuana issue.... Kavuru said his group will encourage advocates to testify at the task force meetings and in town hall meetings state Senators plan to hold across the state.
Kavuru said he's hopeful the legislature will enact good legislation that establishes an industry and serves many types of patients. "At the end of the day, we do want reform for patients first," Kavuru said. "If they pass the right medical marijuana law, then it's not worth going through a ballot initiative. If they don't or we hear they're passing something we don't like, we'll continue with the initiative. The citizens' initiative process is there in case the government doesn't do what you want."
The group has collected about 80,000 signatures, Kavuru said, but many petition books are still in the field. Kavuru said the group, which has relied on volunteers thus far, will have the money to hire paid signature collectors. Legalize Ohio 2016 is the only recreational marijuana measure in motion....
Ohio Rights Group, which had been collecting signatures for a medical-only measure until it backed Issue 3, could still qualify for the November ballot. ORG President Mary Jane Borden said the group does not have the money to pay signature collectors or run a campaign and instead will focus on educating lawmakers about the benefits of medical cannabis....
A new, medical-only measure was filed Thursday with the Ohio attorney general. The Ohio Medical Cannabis Amendment, backed by longtime marijuana advocates Tonya Davis and Carlis McDerment, would allow people with a qualifying condition such as glaucoma or multiple sclerosis to purchase and use marijuana. If the proposed summary is cleared by the attorney general, the group will have to collect 305,591 signatures of registered Ohio voters to put the measure on the ballot.
Disconcertingly, while the folks involved with Legalize Ohio 2016 pushed for a no vote on full legalization proposed by ResponsibleOhio in 2015 with promises that they would bring much better reform to voters in 2016, it now sounds as though the Legalize Ohio 2016 folks are suggesting they would be content now with just medical marijuana reform. Moreover, with the challenges posed by collecting hundred of thousands of signatures and a new Ohio constitutional restriction on ballot access for initiative, my deep fear that the Legalize Ohio folks would face an uphill battle to give voters another chance to consider full legalization seem to be coming to fruition.