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National Group Launches Ohio Medical Marijuana Effort

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A major national organization has announced it will attempt to put a medical marijuana initiative on Ohio’s 2016 ballot. The move comes just days after a separate group behind 2015’s failed attempt to pass a measure legalizing marijuana in the state announced that it would not try again in 2016, and would instead defer to the legislature to take action on medical cannabis.

The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) uploaded a job posting Wednesday night for an Ohio organizer to serve as the “point person for the new campaign to pass a medical marijuana constitutional amendment” in the state.

The Washington, D.C.-based group is forming a new political committee called Ohioans for Medical Marijuana. Mason Tvert, MPP’s director of communications, told Marijuana.com in a phone interview that official paperwork would be filed with the state this week.

He also confirmed that the organization would not be working with Ian James, a controversial political consultant who led the failed 2015 Ohio campaign.

That effort, under the banner of ResponsibleOhio, generated opposition from many longtime marijuana legalization activists by proposing an oligopolistic model for commercial cannabis cultivation controlled by ten corporations owned by the very investors who funded the ballot initiative campaign. Advocates were also turned off by “Buddie,” the marijuana superhero mascot the campaign used to attempt to reach young voters.

The measure was soundly defeated by a margin of 36 percent to 64 percent.

MPP’s Tvert told Marijuana.com that the organization has not yet begun drafting the 2016 medical medical marijuana measure but that it would not include an oligopoly model for the medical cannabis market.

“MPP has helped draft several successful medical marijuana laws both through the legislative process and the initiative process and we’ve never included the type of language that was so problematic last year in Ohio,” he said. “We want to make sure that this is well written effective law that ensures Ohioans from all corners of the state have legal, consistent access to medical marijuana.”

Last week, Ohio lawmakers announced the formation of a task force to examine the possibility of passing some form of medical marijuana program through the legislature. Included on the task force are James Gould, one of ResponsibleOhio’s major funders, and Chris Stock, author of the failed 2015 measure. As a press conference, Gould said the group is now defunct and that he didn’t anticipate being involved in any attempt at another ballot initiative in 2016, instead deferring to the task force and legislature to address the issue.

It is unclear what type of law, if any, the task force will recommend or if there will be enough support to pass any legislation following the group’s work. Some state officials seem interested only in a limited program allowing the use of non-psychoactive cannabis preparations rich in cannabidiol (CBD), which has shown promise for people suffering from severe epilepsy.

But now MPP is moving ahead with its own comprehensive medical marijuana initiative, which could increase pressure on lawmakers to pass something substantial.

It is too early to tell whether any of the ResponsibleOhio funders will be backing MPP’s new effort, but Tvert said, “I hope those folks will be interested in supporting a strong medical marijuana law.”

Organizers will need to collect more than 300,000 valid signatures from registered voters in order to qualify the measure for the ballot. The campaign will likely need to hire paid petitioners in order to collect that many signatures.

But, once the measure is qualified for the ballot, the organization may not need to spend much to pass it since medical marijuana enjoys such broad support in the state. A Quinnipiac poll in October, for example, showed that 90 percent of Ohioans back medical cannabis.

Read the job posting for MPP’s new Ohio medical marijuana position here.

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