03 Jul Showdown in Ohio: ResponsibleOhio Turns in Signatures
On June 30, 2015, the pro marijuana legalization group ResponsibleOhio upped the ante in a looming state constitutional showdown in Ohio come November. The group submitted 695,273 signatures to the secretary of state. It only needed 300,000 to qualify for the ballot.
Ohio is the site of one of the most interesting state legalization drives in the country right now. It could also become the fifth state in the country with a fully legal marijuana market. However, as of July 1, that may no longer be the case.
The cause of the consternation is the way legalization might proceed in state. Two groups, ResponsibleOhio being the most organized frontrunner, have proposed a cash-for-legalization play while changing the state constitution to create what many are calling a legal monopoly in the state marijuana market. In exchange for financial support of the process, however, which is estimated to cost about $20 million, the amendment proposed by ResponsibleOhio would also give backing investors a monopoly control of all marijuana produced in state.
That movement is pitting legalization advocates against each other even as the national reform groups decided earlier this year to wait for which way the wind was blowing before taking sides. In late May, the Ohio Green Party came out against both this amendment and another amendment sponsored by Better for Ohio, a competing group, because they both limited the number of growers.
According to a press release from the Ohio Green Party, “The public statements of the ‘Responsible Ohio’ group have predicted that each of the 10 envisioned investors (grow sites) would stand to earn $1 Billion from an initial investment of $12 Million.” Bob Fitrakis, the OGP’s co-chair, also said that “what we would be doing is exchanging an illegal cartel, for a legal one, representing the worst of cannabis capitalism.”
At stake is not only legalization, for both recreational and medical use, but the shape of the entire state marijuana market. After failing for several years in a row to find the backing for a constitutional amendment via the traditional third party organization of a voter initiative, the model for legalization pioneered by Colorado, Ohio residents were presented with the ResponsibleOhio option earlier this year.
In late June, as ResponsibleOhio announced that they would be submitting their signatures to get on the November ballot, state legislators stepped into the fray directly.
On June 30, 2015, the same day ResponsibleOhio turned in its signatures, the Ohio General Assembly approved House Joint Resolution 4, a resolution designed to block commercial interests from changing the state constitution for their own economic gain or purpose. The focus is not just the marijuana industry, but an apparent rebellion in-state that has been brewing since the casino industry was legalized the same way. The marijuana legalization push backed by ResponsibleOhio was modeled on the casino initiative and in fact justified this way to date, despite obvious problems.
Since the assembly has passed the House Joint Resolution 4, it will also go on the state ballot in November. If voters approve HJR 4, it will, by state law, supersede ResponsibleOhio’s measure.
Other efforts to legalize marijuana are still organizing to try and create a more open market by changing the state constitution to create a more traditional state industry. However those efforts are not slated for this year, but 2016, when other states including California and Nevada will vote to create completely legal marijuana markets.
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