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Marijuana advocates won the go-ahead in March to begin collecting signatures on a petition to legalize the drug in Ohio.

Ohio Marijuana FlagMembers of ResponsibleOhio, a pro-reform group, now have until July 1 to collect 305,591 valid voter signatures from across the state. If they succeed and state officials certify the signatures, legalization would appear on the ballot in the fall.

“We’re confident we will qualify for the ballot this November,” said Lydia Bolander, a spokeswoman for ResponsibleOhio.

The Ohio Ballot Board, a five-member state elections panel, cleared the cannabis petition for the signature phase on March 20. Members were tasked with deciding whether the proposed ballot language presents a single legal issue.

They ruled that it does, but they had no authority to reject the initiative on the grounds that they disagree with its intent. That didn’t stop the board’s chair, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, from denigrating the proposal.

Husted voted to clear the petition but called it “the most objectionable constitutional amendment I’ve dealt with as secretary of state.”

ResponsibleOhio has a lot of work to do

ResponsibleOhio faces a massive uphill political battle to change the state’s cannabis laws. Ohio is one of 14 states where marijuana users face only civil fines for simple possession, but medical marijuana is not yet allowed there.

More importantly, every elected statewide officeholder – all Republicans – oppose the measure. So do both houses of the state legislature, also dominated by the GOP. ResponsibleOhio doesn’t need their support from a legal standpoint, but these politicians could make it practically impossible to pass reform.

The amendment, if it passes, would create a regulated retail market for recreational cannabis. It would allow 10 grow sites spread across the state, in addition to processing facilities, retail shops, and medical marijuana dispensaries.

Medicinal and recreational use would be legalized simultaneously

Rolling Marijuana JointIf successful, the proposal would mark the first time a state has legalized medical and recreational cannabis simultaneously. Taxes collected from the industry would pay for local government in Ohio, backers say. The group announced it would start collecting signatures immediately following the ballot ruling.

Public support for marijuana reform in Ohio is modest compared to some other parts of the country but still strong. Recent polls suggest a slim majority favors outright legalization, while even more voters want medical cannabis.

Unfortunately, the political balance in the state is heavily against this movement. As seen in Florida, political influence can make or break a marijuana ballot initiative. There, voters fell just two percentage points shy of passing medicinal cannabis, in large part because the issue became entangled in statewide partisan political campaigns.

This doesn’t necessarily mean legalization won’t happen in Ohio. But it will be a tough fight to see it through, and it may not succeed on the first try.

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About the Author: Matt Brooks

Matt is a journalist from San Francisco who has specialized in marijuana policy for more than six years.

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