Image of marijuana being proccessed
Leaders of one pro-marijuana legalization effort on Tuesday provided more details of the plan they want to put before Ohio voters in November, touting it as a way to eliminate the marijuana black market and bring more jobs to the state.
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The ResponsibleOhio constitutional amendment would legalize the production, sale and consumption of marijuana in Ohio for medical purposes and personal use for adults over 21. The amendment would limit growing locations to 10 regulated sites, with the possibility of expanding to more as demand grows.
 
While other pro-pot groups have failed to raise enough money to put an issue on the ballot, ResponsibleOhio has secured funding from wealthy investors who will then operate the grow sites.
 
Chris Stock, a Cincinnati attorney who helped draft the ResponsibleOhio amendment, said in an interview the investors will be known later in the campaign. He said the marijuana commission will be able to meet consumer demand by being able to control the growing facilities, while allowing entrepreneurs to enter the industry at other points.
 
"There are opportunities up and down this stream of commerce to participate in the market and that participation is going to create jobs," Stock said.
 
The amendment would create a three-tiered supply chain: growers, manufacturers who make edibles, sprays and other products, and retail stores and nonprofit medical dispensaries. Marijuana would be tracked from production to point of sale.
 
Growers could obtain provisional licenses after passing a criminal background check and paying a $100,000 license fee, Stock said. He said potential retailers would be able to seek approval from local voters as soon as May 2016, but those retailers would have to pay the costs to hold a special election. The system would be similar to the approval process for a liquor permit, with voters in the local precinct getting a say.
 
The group plans to submit amendment language to the attorney general's office for initial approval in early February. If approved, ResponsibleOhio would then have to collect more than 305,591 signatures of valid Ohio voters before July 1 to put the issue on the ballot in November.
 
Drug Free Action Alliance, a nonprofit that works to prevent drug abuse statewide, is the first Ohio group to oppose a legalization plan.
 
"Marijuana cartel backers continue to talk in vague, glowing terms while refusing to dignify the intelligence of Ohio voters by simply offering the specific details of their scheme," executive director Marcie Seidel said in a statement. "We prefer to wait until they file their proposed constitutional amendment with the attorney general before we fully illustrate the many ways this drug legalization scheme is bad for Ohio families and workers."
 
Four states have legalized marijuana despite federal prohibition of the substance: Colorado, Washington, Alaska and Oregon. Colorado brought in more than $44 million in tax revenues in 2014, its first year with a legal pot industry, according to the Colorado Department of Revenue.
 
The ResponsibleOhio proposal would tax marijuana at a higher rate than Colorado -- 15 percent when purchased by manufacturers, stores and consumers -- with revenues funding local government public services and drug addiction and prevention programs.
 
Unlike Colorado, out-of-state customers would be allowed to buy the same amount as Ohio residents -- up to 1 ounce, or 28 grams, Stock said. Also unlike Colorado, the ResponsibleOhio proposal would not allow Ohioans to grow marijuana for personal use.
 
"We don't necessarily think personal grow is compatible with proper regulation, but we don't believe at the same time it should be in the Constitution," Stock said, adding state lawmakers could decide to authorize home grow.
 
"ResponsibleOhio will not only eradicate the dangerous black market, we will replace it with a safer, better market," Stock said.
 
A second group calling itself Ohioans to End Prohibition said earlier this month it planned to propose an amendment for the 2016 ballot that would allow adults to grow cannabis in their homes and allow farmers to grow industrial hemp.
 
OTEP President Sri Kavuru said limiting the growers to 10 creates a constitutional monopoly. Kavuru said if any of the growing or testing sites were to become contaminated, a large portion of the crop would be affected and burden the overall cannabis supply.
 
"There are several reasons to support the legalization of marijuana: to alleviate pain and suffering of medical marijuana patients, to end a needless and costly drug war, and to create a robust new industry that would bring millions of dollars into the economy of Ohio," Kavuru said. "This plan will do none of these things, and is a slap in the face for Ohioans, who deserve a common sense, comprehensive marijuana policy."
 
By Jackie Borchardt, Northeast Ohio Media Group ~ January 20, 2015
 
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