The Fight Over ResponsibleOhio’s Marijuana Legalization Plan Heats Up

   

ResponsibleOhio is a well-funded political action committee (PAC) seeking to legalize marijuana in the Buckeye State. The group has some famous backers and seems to have the money to develop an effective campaign that can win. The measure would end thousands of arrests and allows for home cultivation. However, the fact that a marijuana wholesaler oligarchy of just 10 cultivators would control the marijuana market, has many people, understandably, very concerned. There are people on both sides of the fight that I know and respect.

Normally, such an effort would be supported wholeheartedly by local and national advocates, but ResponsibleOhio’s effort has garnered extreme opposition from many local activists and, according to the Center for Public Integrity, the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance, two national organizations that have helped lead successful statewide legalization measures in the past, have distanced themselves from ResponsibleOhio. Opposition from unlikely reform advocates has joined the expected opposition from prohibitionists. More from the Center for Public Integrity on the unlikely bedfellows opposing ResponsibleOhio:

“This is egregious to me on many levels,” said Marcie Seidel, an anti-drug activist who opposes all forms of legalization and heads Ohio’s Drug Free Action Alliance. “This is basically wealthy individuals, the 1 percent that we always hear about, that are wanting and asking us as Ohio citizens to guarantee in the constitution that they are going to make millions and millions more dollars so they can become even more wealthy.”

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Mary Smith, a marijuana activist and the former owner of what she called a “run-of-the-mill hippie department store” in Toledo, said she isn’t backing it because she doubts Responsible Ohio’s wealthy investors have genuine empathy for medical marijuana patients.

“This is completely about greed,” she said.

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Vermilion resident Aaron Weaver and about 20 other pro-pot critics of Responsible Ohio are trying to put up a fight. In April, they formed a new nonprofit, Citizens Against Responsible Ohio.

So far the group exists as a website, Facebook pages and Twitter feeds. And they are paying out of their own pockets to promote Facebook posts criticizing the measure. Encouraged solely by a tweet from comedian Drew Carey, an Ohio native who voiced skepticism about Responsible Ohio’s plan, Weaver drafted a letter asking him for money. “With your assistance, we can turn the tide and put a stop to these well-polished thugs in their tracks,” Weaver’s letter reads.

The entire piece by Liz Whyte is fascinating certainly worth reading. It provides insight not only into the ResponsibleOhio debate, but also into the ballot measure industry in general. 

While I never like in-fighting among cannabis law reformers, it simply comes with the territory, and the more experience that I’ve gained in the political arena, I have learned that these fights occur among many other political causes. I urge the advocates duking it out politically in Ohio to keep the debate about the issues and not get personal. Regardless of the outcome of ResponsibleOhio, which could be on the ballot THIS November, cannabis issues aren’t going away anytime soon, and advocates will need each other to ensure effective implementation and to improve the law in the future. Personally, I tend to feel that I would vote for any marijuana law that is better than the status quo, seeking to improve that law over time if it had any deficiencies. I wouldn’t necessarily advocate for the measure or even urge people to support the measure, if I had major misgivings, but if it leads to fewer arrests and people in jail, I can’t imagine voting “NO”.

No matter how legalization turns out in 2015 or 2016 or beyond, in Ohio, I just hope that fewer lives will be ruined and that cannabis activists will unite when necessary to continue to improve the state’s marijuana laws. While activists first and primary concern must be the people of their own state, we must always keep in mind that we are also fighting for members of the cannabis community who aren’t fortunate to live in states that have progressive marijuana laws or on the verge of doing so. We need to keep up the momentum state by state, until we are all free.

Anthony Johnson

Anthony, a longtime cannabis law reform advocate, was Chief Petitioner and co-author of Measure 91, Oregon's cannabis legalization effort. He served as director of both the New Approach Oregon and Vote Yes on 91 PACs, the political action committees responsible for the state's legalization campaign. As director of New Approach Oregon, Anthony continues to work towards effectively implementing the cannabis legalization system while protecting small business owners and the rights of patients. He sits on the Oregon Marijuana Rules Advisory Committee and fights for sensible rules at the legislature as well as city councils and county commissions across the state. Anthony helps cannabis business comply with Oregon's laws and advises advocates across the country. He also serves as content director of both the International Cannabis Business Conference and the Oregon Marijuana Business Conference, helping share the vision of moving the cannabis industry forward in a way that maintains the focus on keeping people out of prison and protecting patients. He was a member of the Oregon Health Authority Rules Advisory Committee, assisting the drafting of the administrative rules governing Oregon’s state-licensed medical marijuana facilities. He first co-authored and helped pass successful marijuana law reform measures while a law student at the University of Missouri-Columbia School of Law. He passed the Oregon Bar in 2005 and practiced criminal defense for two years before transitioning to working full-time in the political advocacy realm. His blogs on Marijuana Politics are personal in nature and don't speak for or reflect the opinions of any group or organization.