Legal marijuana proposal could be coming back to Ohio ballot

CINCINNATI -- Ohio voters will likely have another chance to decide whether marijuana should be available for recreational use. 

A new constitutional amendment called the "Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Amendment" has been proposed for the ballot next year. People 21 or older would be able to legally cultivate, possess, process, dispense and use the drug privately under the proposed amendment. 

Cincinnati investor Jimmy Gould is behind Green Light Acquisitions' effort, which he said differs from the Issue 3 voters rejected in 2015. He was part of the ground behind that "Responsible Ohio" ballot initiative.

"We heard what the voters said, which was they did not want self-selection," Gould said.

Gould is also the CEO of CannAscend, a company that applied and was rejected for a medical marijuana cultivation license through Ohio's new program.

The proposed amendment would control and regulate the commercial production and distribution of marijuana through licenses. Those facilities couldn't be closer than 500 feet from a school, church, day care center or playground. Ohio farmers would be allowed to cultivate hemp, competing with counterparts in other states with regulated recreational marijuana.

It would not impact the Ohio medical marijuana control program, which is currently being rolled out. 

Mary Haag, the executive director of anti-drug ground PreventionFirst! in Cincinnati, said there are still too many unanswered questions about marijuana for it to be used recreationally, especially when it comes to teens and young adults. 

"I don't think we need another drug -- another legalized drug," Haag said. "Yes, we have alcohol, and that's the number one substance that's abused and causes addiction still to this day."

Haag said she believed only "a minority of people" are interested in legalizing marijuana.

"I don't think it's best for the society as a whole," she said.

State officials have already issued 24 licenses for medical marijuana cultivators. Gould has criticized the program, calling the system "backwards" and "broken" after CannAscend was denied a license. 

Medical marijuana sales sites

There will eventually be three locations in Hamilton County licensed to sell marijuana.  One of those might be in Columbia Township, where two sites have been pinpointed as possibilities.

Those sites include the old home Emporium Store on Ride Road and a small business center on Kennedy Avenue and Duck Creek Road, which houses a baseball academy, dance school and offices. 

The second site is close to Interstate 71, which Columbia Township Administrator Mike Lemon said could be "a great selling point on where to place a dispensary."

A zoning change made by the township trustees has made it possible for a dispensary to open in the township. However, the trustees approved language would allow only one dispensary, if one comes at all. 

"Not only would a dispensary in the township provide a need for patients and others that have conditions or illnesses that are specified in the state law, but also it would be an opportunity for us to capture additional revenue," Lemon said.

As word spread of the two possible sites, Lemon said he has received very little feedback.

"Actually, the reaction has been very quiet," he said. "We've had very few comments. We've had no phone calls in opposition."

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