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Details Emerge About 2016 Ohio Medical Marijuana Measure

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Last month, national legalization group Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) took observers by surprise in announcing that it would work to put a medical cannabis initiative on Ohio’s ballot this November.

While the measure has not yet been filed, particulars about what it will contain are starting to emerge.

“The initiative is still being drafted, so some details are still being worked out, but the initiative will be based on the medical-marijuana laws that already exist in 23 states and the District of Columbia,” Rob Kampia, MPP’s executive director, said in new interview posted on the website of UnitedOhio, which appears to be a coalition made up of state cannabis reform groups that have sometimes worked at odds with one another.

Kampia said that unlike California’s medical cannabis law, the Ohio amendment will outline a specific list of conditions that patients must have in order to qualify. Chronic pain and PTSD will be among those conditions, he pledged.

Home-grown marijuana will be allowed.

No additional taxes beyond the normal sales tax will be levied on medical cannabis purchases.

And, the measure will create six kinds of business licenses for those who grow, process, test, distribute and sell medical marijuana. There will be two separate licensing categories for large and small growers.

The overall structure of the cannabis industry created by the initiative will differ from that proposed by a marijuana legalization measure that Ohio voters soundly defeated last year. That effort, which campaigned under the banner of ResponsibleOhio, would have created an oligopolistic model for commercial cannabis cultivation controlled by ten corporations owned by the very investors who funded the ballot initiative campaign.

This time, “the deck won’t be stacked against anyone,” Kampia said.

But he also said that while there won’t be a limit on the number of licenses that can be issued for most business categories, only a certain number of large-scale growers will be licensed. And those large cultivators will be approved first. “Once those seeds are planted in the ground, the executive branch will be charged with issuing a larger number of the other business licenses,” Kampia said.

However, patients and their approved caregivers will be able to start growing their own cannabis right away once they get their ID cards from the state, “whether or not any medical-marijuana businesses ever open in Ohio.”

Kampia also said that patient certification and the price of medical marijuana will cost less than in other states “because the Ohio initiative won’t impose large taxes or bureaucratic hurdles that would translate into higher prices. Also, the Ohio initiative will embrace a healthy, free-market approach to the production of medical marijuana, which will drive down the cost as compared to, say, an oligopoly or a government-run monopoly.”

MPP has hired three seasoned local cannabis activists to head up the effort on the ground. They are Michael Revercomb of Central Ohio NORML, Lissa Satori of the Ohio Hemp Chamber of Commerce and John Pardee of the Ohio Rights Group. They are set to start work on Tuesday on planning the signature gathering drive to qualify the initiative for the ballot, and will be coordinating with a local consulting firm that will handle P.R. and other aspects of the campaign.

Kampia acknowledged that there is still some bad blood among Ohio marijuana reformers over the split that last year’s failed legalization measure caused in the community.

“I’ve been working on the marijuana issue for 26 years, and it’s pretty clear that Ohio has had the highest per-capita level of infighting of any state in the nation,” he said. “Not everyone needs to get along with everyone; rather, you just need to get along with someone. But if you’re the kind of person who doesn’t want to work with Michael, Lissa, John, or literally anyone at MPP, then I guess you won’t be working on this campaign. No hard feelings.”

The drive to collect the 305,591 valid signatures needed to qualify for the ballot will start around April 2, and run through about July 6. Because not all collected signatures will end up being valid, Kampia said the campaign’s goal is to gather 600,000 in total.

While MPP will pay professionals to collect the bulk of that sum, the group is also asking for volunteer help to round up 200,000 signatures toward the goal. “This campaign needs to be a team effort, and we’re hoping that Ohio can surprise the nation by showing that people can, in fact, work together successfully to promote a common cause,” Kampia said.

With 95 days between the launch of the drive and the deadline for turning in petitions, “volunteers would need to collect approximately 2,000 gross signatures per day statewide,” he said. “If at least 500 volunteers are willing to collect signatures across the state this spring, we can all win on November 8; alternatively, without significant volunteer buy-in, the signature drive would fail. So I have a question for you: Will 500 volunteers be willing to stand on sidewalks during the nice-weather months?”

Separate from MPP’s ballot initiative effort, Ohio lawmakers recently launched a task force that is conducting hearings around the state to inform a possible legislative push for medical cannabis. But Kampia called the hearings “too little, too late.” Pointing out that the legislature has failed to act on the issue for decades, he said “it’s time for the people to take matters into their own hands by passing a ballot initiative.”

This piece has been updated to reflect that Strategic Public Partners is no longer MPP’s consulting firm in Ohio, and that UnitedOhio is not MPP’s campaign committee in the state. MPP has not yet selected a new consulting firm, and Ohioans for Medical Marijuana is the organization’s local campaign committee.

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