A recent attempt to legalize marijuana for any use in Ohio met with utter failure. But that doesn’t mean advocates are giving up.
In fact, a large national lobbying group has joined an effort to put medical cannabis on the statewide ballot in November. The Marijuana Policy Project announced in January that it would back the MMJ cause in Ohio.
The system would be similar to medicinal marijuana in the 23 other states where it is allowed, plus the District of Columbia. Major lobbying groups are not pushing for full legalization in 2016, perhaps recognizing that last year’s defeat would make that much harder to accomplish.
The campaign is still young, said Mason Tvert, spokesman for the Marijuana Policy Project. Nothing has been drafted yet, though the proposed ballot initiative would let people with certain “serious medical conditions” buy, possess, and use cannabis as medicine. Patients would have to secure doctors’ recommendations before they could buy the drug from dispensaries.
The law would also legalize a medical marijuana industry, creating licenses for cultivation, processing, laboratory testing, and retail sales.
Marijuana Policy Project is a highly influential reform group
The Marijuana Policy Project is the largest group of its kind in the United States and has a great deal of influence over the cannabis debate. The group played a key role in legalizing marijuana in Alaska and Colorado, plus MMJ initiatives in Arizona, Michigan, and Montana. The organization also helped draft medical weed legislation in several other states.
The Marijuana Policy Project’s support in Ohio marks a departure, as the group has historically avoided the state. Ohio is completely dominated by conservative Republicans who oppose legalization, and while public support is strong, it is weaker than in some other states. Grassroots groups also find it hard to secure the funding needed to gather hundreds of thousands of voter signatures.
ResponsibleOhio’s failed proposal
Another group, ResponsibleOhio, put a legalization proposal on the ballot last November, but it went down to defeat over concerns it would create a marijuana monopoly. Even some prominent lobbyists begged off the petition, saying it was an example of greed run amok. The Marijuana Policy Project supported it but never threw its full weight behind it.
Even as they rejected the ResponsibleOhio proposal, which would also have legalized medical cannabis, voters approved a competing measure that now bars any kind of monopoly in the state.
“The discussion was not about marijuana being legal,” Tvert said. “Lost in the mix was the important discussion about safe access to medical marijuana for seriously ill people.”
ResponibleOhio has disbanded, at least temporarily, and its backers will play only a quiet role in the new push for MMJ, focusing on legislation rather than a referendum. A local consulting business will handle most of the work, Tvert said.