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Will pot be on the Ohio ballot this year?

Posted: 7:56 AM, Jan 26, 2016
Updated: 2016-01-26 13:26:27Z

WASHINGTON -- A Washington D.C.-based organization wants to put a medical marijuana amendment on Ohio's November ballot.

Marijuana Policy Project, founded in 1995, plans to propose a constitutional amendment that would create a medical marijuana system similar to those states that have already legalized medical marijuana.

The group has led several successful marijuana advocacy efforts in Michigan, Montana and Arizona. The organization also works with state legislatures to improve medical marijuana laws.

“It’s really about time,” said Mason Tvert, a spokesperson for MPP. “We just can’t wait any longer.”

For Tvert, the amendment to legalize medical marijuana is more than a piece of legislation. 

Tvert said his grandmother, who suffered from cancer and arthritis, was hopeful that Ohio would legalize medical marijuana after she experienced how beneficial it was during a family visit in Arizona. Tvert’s grandmother passed away last April.

“She had to suffer," he said. "We don’t want to see other seriously ill Ohioans suffering any longer.”

Ohioans rejected Issue 3 last year, which would have legalized both medical and recreational use of marijuana.

Despite 65 percent of voters opposing the amendment, a Quinnipiac University poll, released a month before the election, showed about 90 percent of voters said they support marijuana for medicinal use.

The issue was criticized because it would have created an oligopoly, limiting Ohio's commercial marijuana-growing market to the 10 investor groups who bankrolled the amendment.

MPP did not officially support ResponsibleOhio, the political action committee backing Issue 3, during last year’s campaign.

After the November election, state lawmakers have said they would study the issue of medical marijuana and have created a taskforce made up of state lawmakers, business group leaders and law enforcement groups.

Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, said he’s not ready to say which method would be best to address the medical marijuana issue, but added he believes in good process.

“I think it’s important that we have some sense of process and an opportunity for all to weigh in,” Schuring said.

Schuring, who is the chair of the task force, said he has a diverse group of stakeholders at the table, but he plans to be an objective and effective facilitator where all parties – in favor or not for medical marijuana – are heard.

He also invited MPP to the seven hearings, which will start on Jan. 28.

Tvert said MPP is glad that Ohio’s legislature is exploring the possibility of legalizing medical marijuana, but the issue isn’t new, and there are patients who can’t wait any longer.

At this point, MPP has not drafted the amendment but it hopes to have a proposal in about a month and a half. The organization is also seeking for a campaign manager who is based in Ohio.

“We’re going to build a very strong campaign,” Tvert said.

Joshua Lim is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. You can reach him at joshielim93@gmail.com or @JoshuaLim93.