Marijuana Law, Policy & Reform

Editor: Douglas A. Berman
Moritz College of Law

Sunday, November 5, 2017

An extraordinary accounting of Ohio's recent marijuana reform history

I have said to my students at various times that a book or two or three or four could and should be written about the history of marijuana reform in the great state of Ohio.  This weekend I discovered that Angela Bacca, a freelance journalist, has provided nearly book-length treatment of some of the recent political stories of reform in the state via a four-part series of Huffington Post article.

The subtitle of each part of the series is "Inside Ohio’s Corrupt Medical Marijuana Rollout," and this reporting of recent Ohio history seems especially eager to play up the theme of greed.  But that reporting choice might well be justified, and the tales told in these articles involve more intricate and comprehensive reporting than I have seen anywhere else:

Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Medical Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Medical Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Who decides | Permalink


Dear Professor Berman, I’d like to ask, what should an organization do when a so-called journalist writes smear pieces about it? Such is the case with Ms. Bacca’s four-part series that at best presents a distorted view and at worst contains downright lies. I’d like to understand how such reporting is justifiable. And, as stated in the Part 1’s first paragraph, Ms. Bacca was at least partially funded by an individual who was highly involved with and had influence over what allegedly happened in Ms. Bacca’s view. Is this proper? Also, generally speaking, may ask what the duty of general counsel is to an organization that he/she once served?

For your reference, the Ohio Right Group’s rebuttal is below. Many thanks for hearing us out and for your observations.


Dear colleagues, as many of you may now know, Angela Bacca, a freelance journalist from Oregon, just published a four-part series in the Huffington Post concerning medical marijuana reform in Ohio.

The first article in the series can be found here:

I want to be clear. Much of what is reported in this series is at best a distortion; other parts are downright false. Examples:

1. Ms. Bacca first named the wrong individuals in a meeting with Alan Mooney. She then "corrected" the meeting to include me and "an attorney affiliated with the ORG." That attorney was Bob Fitrakis, Esq., copied on this message. Both he and I will attest that the conversation as described by Ms. Bacca is utterly false. The Ohio Rights Group never offered to sell its assets to anyone. Period.

2. Ms. Bacca writes, "Internal ORG emails confirm the meeting and its contents." Ms. Bacca DOES NOT have permission of the Ohio Rights Group to share its email with anyone or reprint its messages in any form for this four-part series. All of the ORG's excerpted messages were quoted wildly out of context and absent the comments and threads that would shed a far different light on Ms. Bacca's story. How she obtained these messages is under investigation.

3. With regard to "pocketing money on tour stops," John Pardee, as ORG President, was signer on all ORG accounts and had the unequivocal authority to collect and store funds. Further, as ORG Treasurer, I appointed others in leadership to accept money when I wasn't present.

Ms. Bacca has yet to speak with me or others in the ORG about her allegations, but she still allowed this disparagement to go public without being verified. To be frank, if the other groups in Ms. Bacca's articles were as falsely portrayed as the ORG, then the series should be termed as nothing more than a smear piece intended to divide.

Further, when I attempted to publicly correct the record on the Angela Bacca Facebook page, my posts were deleted and I was blocked, although other people still seemed able to post. Please reference below a PDF showing those threads.

Some may be asking, why this is relevant?
Responsible journalism in our country is under attack. The devolution of respectful discourse and the give and take necessary to solve problems has emboldened the use of disparagement, denigration and, yes, "alternative facts" and "fake news" as the preferred tools of those who disagree. In my opinion and hopefully that of others, this article series violates every tenet of what made us better than our opponents and the reasons why the powers that be should give us credence.

To support this opinion, one needs to look no further than the Society of Professional Journalists. [Caveat: I am not a member, but I am a journalist who has considered membership.] Its code of ethics advises journalists to "verify information before releasing it," "respond quickly to questions about accuracy," and "refuse fees ... that may compromise impartiality," among others. All of these were absent from Ms. Bacca's article series.

Questions to my colleagues are these: How does yellow journalism advance drug policy reform? To wit, does dissing our own - patients with Crohn's Disease and a host of other dire medical conditions - speed their removal from the drug war battlefield? Does the circular firing squad, as a colleague once put it, remove the evils of mass incarceration and lifetime criminal records from people of color? Does disparagement reduce the use of opioids or keep veterans from committing suicide? Instead, does self-inflicted yellow journalism empower the police, prisons, big pharma, Jeff Sessions and Project SAM? Diminish us in the eyes of the public? Make real every erroneous stereotype? I'll bet Kevin Sabet was laughing all the way to the bank when he read Ms. Bacca's articles. And isn't it interesting that that the timing of their release coincides with the selection of cultivators under Ohio's new medical marijuana program.

As a matter of background, I cofounded what is now the Ohio Rights Group in 2010 for the purpose of fielding statewide ballot issues in Ohio. In 2013-14, we were successful with the Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment, which garnered roughly 150,000 of the 300,000 signatures necessary to make the Ohio ballot. In a weird twist of fate, some covered albeit inaccurately in Ms. Bacca's four-part series, Ohio evolved through the "monopoly-based" and defeated ResponsibleOhio; the Ohioans for Medical Marijuana ballot initiative fielded by MPP; and the passage of HB 523, which is now being implemented by the State of Ohio. I guess some were dissatisfied with the process and thus the spear piece.

All of this said, I've pasted below the links to the four articles, the Code of Ethics from the Society of Professional Journalists, and the Facebook content that was deleted from the Angela Bacca Facebook page. Since the articles were made public, even boosted as I understand, this seems to be the only public forum where I can tell my truth.

So final question, what happens to sensible marijuana policies when our own journalists use half-truths, innuendo, speculation and downright lies in an attempt to destroy us?

Thank you for listening. I hope for your thoughtful comments.
- Mary Jane
Treasurer, Ohio Rights Group


Huffington Post Articles in Question (as referenced on Friday, 11/10/17) Part 1: The Grassroots Goes Down: Inside Ohio's Corrupt Medical Marijuana Rollout
11/02/2017 03:35 pm ET Updated Nov 03, 2017

Part 2: ResponsibleOhio Storms the Ballot: Inside Ohio's Corrupt Medical Marijuana Rollout
11/02/2017 03:40 pm ET Updated 1 day ago

Part 3: Changing Marijuana Policy, One State at a Time: Inside Ohio's Corrupt Medical Marijuana Rollout
11/02/2017 03:46 pm ET Updated 4 days ago

Part 4: As Goes Ohio, So Goes the Nation: Inside Ohio's Corrupt Medical Marijuana Rollout
11/02/2017 04:14 pm ET Updated 7 hours ago =-=

The "Angela Bacca" Facebook Page

Facebook thread between Angela Bacca and Mary Jane Borden

Posted by: Mary Jane Borden | Nov 11, 2017 8:24:39 AM

Mary Jane,

I think you can/should seek to have HuffPost print your response(s)/corrections to these articles. I am glad you have used the comment sections here, and I also would readily link to a fuller response if/when you get it published by HuffPost or others. I am not a First Amendment expert or an expert in the duties of general counsel, but I am eager to encourage you and others to share your perspectives on all these matters.

Posted by: Doug B | Nov 11, 2017 9:04:18 AM

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