Ohio to vote on legalizing marijuana

Ohio voters will decide Nov. 3 whether to legalize marijuana with a constitutional amendment to institute a revolutionary proposal that backers say will create a billion-dollar industry in the next four years.

Secretary of State Jon Husted said Wednesday the private investor group ResponsibleOhio had collected 320,267 signatures of registered voters, 14,676 more than necessary to qualify for the general-election ballot. ResponsibleOhio has spent more than $2 million since March on the petition drive to put its proposed amendment before voters.

After Husted certified the petition result, Ian James, the group’s executive director, issued a statement:

“It’s time for marijuana legalization in Ohio, and voters will have the opportunity to make it happen this November — we couldn’t be more excited. … By reforming marijuana laws in November, we’ll provide compassionate care to sick Ohioans, bring money back to our local communities and establish a new industry with limitless economic development opportunities.”

The Ohio Ballot Board is scheduled to meet Aug. 18 to determine ResponsibleOhio’s ballot language.

The ambitious campaign by ResponsibleOhio is the best-financed effort in the nation’s history to push back against the 1937 federal ban on marijuana. If voters say yes, the Buckeye State will be the sixth and, with nearly 11.6 million residents, the most populous jurisdiction to legalize marijuana, joining Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and the District of Columbia.

ResponsibleOhio’s investors have pledged to spend $20 million in the 83 days until Nov. 3 on a sophisticated election effort, including a bus tour, Internet advertising, television and radio advertising, voter registration drives and door-to-door canvassing.

The group’s televised pitches began Aug. 6 during a nationally broadcast debate of Republican primary candidates in Cleveland, before all the petition signatures had been counted.

But what could be the biggest hurdle to legalization also is on the Nov. 3 ballot. In June, the Ohio Legislature quickly wrote and placed on the ballot a measure that would prohibit “a monopoly, oligopoly or cartel” in Ohio, especially involving any federally controlled substance, such as marijuana.

Husted has said that if voters pass both measures, the legislative initiative would take precedence, although ResponsibleOhio disputes that evaluation. If both measures pass, the dispute will go to court.

James and proponents of the Marijuana Legalization Amendment say a legal industry would produce economic and social benefits and save the millions of dollars now spent policing the black market and imprisoning people for low-level offenses.

A ResponsibleOhio task force, led by Hamilton County Prosecutor Joe Deters, has forecast that a legal industry in Ohio could generate more than $2 billion a year by 2020.

The most controversial aspect of ResponsibleOhio’s proposal is a limit on the cultivation of the commercial crop to 10 farms, which are named in the amendment. Opponents have called this structure a monopoly, meaning owned by one, although the correct economic term is oligopoly, meaning owned by a few.

The farms have been purchased or put under purchase option by at least 20 wealthy investors, including reality-TV star Nick Lachey, former NBA star Oscar Robertson, NFL player Frostee Rucker, local philanthropist Barbara Gould, fashion designer and Youngstown native Nanette Lapore, Covington beer and wine distributor Jennifer Doering and two descendants of President William Howard Taft, Woody and Dudley Taft Jr.

Source: USA Today