By Justin Wier
Responsible Ohio, a political action committee, is mounting a campaign to put a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana use in the state of Ohio on the ballot this fall.
Lydia Bolander, a spokesperson for Responsible Ohio, is optimistic about the campaigns prospects.
“We are confident Ohio voters will have the chance to vote on our amendment in November 2015,” Bolander said.
Assuming the petition is successful, Responsible Ohio will mount an information campaign in the fall leading up to the election.
“We’re going to have a thorough, thoughtful conversation with voters about why our proposal will make Ohio safer and bring much-needed revenue to our communities. We believe that people will agree with our proposal,” Bolander said.
The group has yet to release the actual text of the amendment, but has said it will establish a marijuana control commission, five testing facilities, ten regulated growing facilities and over 1,100 licensed retail stores. All pot products would be subject to a 15 percent tax, with an exemption for not-for-profit dispensaries that will provide cannabis to medical patients at cost.
The amendment would not allow citizens of Ohio to grow their own weed. This, along with the limited number of growing facilities, has led some to claim Responsible Ohio’s plan would constitute a monopoly.
Bolander said these limitations are for regulatory purposes and to assure ethical practices.
“One of our top goals from the beginning has been to smother the black market and replace it with a better, safer market. The only way to do that successfully is to limit the supply of marijuana so it can be tightly regulated from seed to sale,” Bolander said. “Our amendment does not address home growing, so if the General Assembly chose to change that law, they would have the authority to do so.”
Paul Sracic, chair of the political science department at Youngstown State University, said he’s not convinced the group will even be able to get the amendment on the ballot.
“I think it’s an open question about whether they’re going to succeed. I don’t even know if it’s a 50/50 chance that they’ll succeed at that stage,” Sracic said. “I actually think you might be able to argue that getting it approved if it’s on the ballot might be easier than actually getting it on the ballot. Because voting is anonymous. So it’s one thing for someone to go into a booth and anonymously vote for an amendment. It’s another thing for someone to put their name on a petition.”
The amendment process requires petitioners gather over 300,000 signatures and they need to obtain the signatures in at least half of the counties in Ohio.
The fact that there isn’t a general election this year could also play into the outcome if the initiative makes it on the ballot.
“I think it has a better chance of succeeding in a year of a general election because of the sort of turnout you get. It’s true that you can maybe sneak something in, and voters aren’t very motivated overall maybe to show up during an off-year election. So maybe those that are in favor of legalization will get out to the polls,” Sracic said. “But there’s also the chance that it’ll generate backlash, and the people that really oppose this are going to show up and vote against it. And since you’re dealing with smaller numbers, a small group that’s opposed to it might have more of an effect during an off-year.”