A group of local investors who failed in their bid to secure a state license to grow medical marijuana on Monday announced plans for a statewide ballot issue to fully legalize marijuana.
Jimmy Gould, chairman of Cincinnati-based Green Light Acquisitions, proposed an Ohio constitutional amendment that would allow anyone 21 or older to grow marijuana in their homes for personal use or commercial cultivation.
Gould said the ballot issue would not conflict with Ohio’s current medical marijuana law but would expand legalized marijuana use among qualified adults without a physician’s recommendation.
Gould said he would need 305,592 signatures to place the issue before Ohio voters next year. His group plans to finalize the language in the proposal and begin circulating it next month. The initial filing deadline for the ballot proposal is July 4, 2018.
Gould is a longtime proponent of decriminalizing marijuana, which he said can be a useful tool for dealing with a variety of chronic conditions, including the opioid addiction crisis that has plagued Ohio.
He co-founded the group ResponsibleOhio, which was behind Ohio’s failed Issue 3 marijuana initiative in 2015 that would have legalized marijuana for both medical and non-medical use.
The measure lost in all 88 Ohio counties, with nearly two-thirds of voters statewide voting “no” to recreational and medical marijuana.
But the new proposal “is as different from Issue 3 as night and day,” Gould said. “We spent a lot of time and effort to get this right. This is not Issue 3 revisited.”
Gould said the new ballot proposal is a responsible way to fully legalize marijuana use, cultivation, possession, processing and dispensing, and regulate it like alcohol-related businesses in Ohio.
In addition, the new proposal tosses out many of the contentious items that Gould blames for Issue 3’s ultimate defeat, including designating certain properties as the only places in Ohio where the cannabis plant could be legally grown. Critics charged the stipulation would have benefitted only a handful of mega-growers.
“The concept of the rich getting richer goes right out the window with this,” Gould said.
Gould said another reason he thinks now is the right time to introduce a new marijuana initiative is that “a lot of time has gone by” since Issue 3 was defeated, and more Americans are inclined to support legalized marijuana based on studies, opinion polls and the sheer number of states that have adopted such laws over the past several years.
Since 2015, at least 18 states, including Ohio, have adopted legalized marijuana laws for either medical or recreational use or both.
“I guess we’ll find out how much adult citizens want to be able to administer (cannabis) for themselves,” Gould said. “I think people want to have more control over their lives.”
Gould said his new ballot initiative would “run parallel” to a lawsuit he plans to file against the state after his firm, CannAscend Ohio, and dozens of other applicants were denied “Level 1” licenses for large-scale medical marijuana growers.
The Ohio Department of Commerce earlier this month awarded 12 preliminary Level 1 licenses based on what Gould alleges was a deeply flawed selection process and the use of questionable application graders, including one who was a convicted drug dealer.
“That stuff is just not OK,’’ Gould said. “Commerce feel asleep at the wheel. They either didn’t know, or they didn’t do background checks” on the application graders.
“This is incompetence at best, and borders on criminal at the worst,” he added.
Here’s an overview of Jimmy Gould’s newly proposed constitutional amendment that would allow recreational marijuana use in Ohio:
* The “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Amendment” would provide for the legal cultivation, possession, processing, dispensing, use and consumption of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older.
* The amendment would control the commercial production and distribution of marijuana under a system that licenses, and regulates the businesses involved; while also providing the lawful cultivation, sale, and processing of industrial hemp.
* The amendment would not impact the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program.
* Regulate marijuana like alcohol. The amendment would provide for the commercial cultivation, processing, and dispensing of marijuana by persons 21 years of age or older: “If you can own a bar, or make beer, wine or spirits, you will be able to own a marijuana dispensary, processor or cultivation.”
* The amendment will control the commercial production and distribution of marijuana under a system that licenses, and regulates businesses involved.
* Cities, villages and townships can approve the number of commercial marijuana businesses that may be permitted to operate in their community, and local voters will be allowed to decide if dispensaries can open in their precinct.
* No public consumption would be allowed. Smoking marijuana or marijuana products will be prohibited in any public place, in any place where smoking is prohibited, or on (or in) any form of public transportation.
* Commercial marijuana facilities can be no closer than 500 feet from a school, church day-care center or playground.
* Ohio farmers would be permitted to cultivate hemp, and compete with farmers in neighboring states.
* Persons 21 years of age or older would be allowed to cultivate marijuana in secure non-public viewable locations in which those under 21 years of age cannot access.