COLUMBUS, Ohio -- If Ohio voters approve a constitutional amendment legalizing marijuana, don't expect to be able to drive past fields of cannabis sparkling in the Ohio sun.
Instead, a group seeking to legalize marijuana through a November 2015 ballot initiative plans to grow cannabis under hundreds of acres in indoor facilities across the state.
Ballot initiative language released Monday by ResponsibleOhio confirmed earlier reports that growing cannabis would be limited to 10 specific sites owned and operated by investors bankrolling the campaign. The campaign will have to spend millions to persuade voters to legalize marijuana for personal use among adults over age 21 and medical use for "debilitating conditions."
ResponsibleOhio spokeswoman Lydia Bolander said the sites were chosen for geographic diversity and to meet criteria set in the proposed constitutional amendment. Four are in Southwest Ohio, three are in Northeast Ohio, one is in Northwest Ohio and two are in Central Ohio. The plan also would establish a marijuana research and development center in Cuyahoga County.
The proposed constitutional amendment includes parcel numbers for each site. Many are zoned agricultural, while others currently host warehouses and other industrial spaces, according to county auditor records. The sites will range in size from 13 acres in Southwest Ohio's Union Township to 76 acres in Lorain.
Each growing location would begin with 100,000 square feet of growing space, according to Responsible Ohio, expanding to 300,000 square feet in future years. A newly created marijuana regulatory agency could decide to allow more growing sites or eliminate sites depending on consumer demand.
More information about the three Northeast Ohio locations, according to county property tax records:
  • 76.83 acres in Lorain, at 2610 Colorado Ave. near Cromwell Park and the Black River
  • 27.18 acres on Main Street West in Alliance, next to Robertson Kitchen and Bath Gallery
  • 29 acres at 6333 Hudson Crossing Parkway in Hudson, south of I-80 and Ohio 8
Bolander said each site has been purchased or optioned so it will be permanently owned by an investor group. The investor groups, registered in Ohio as limited liability companies, have also donated $1.7 million to the campaign, which spent nearly $1.3 million before making public its amendment language, according to state campaign finance records.
The amendment requires all marijuana facilities, including the "growth and cultivation centers" to be at least 1,000 feet from a "house of worship," a public library, a public elementary or secondary school, a state-licensed child care center or a playground adjacent to those facilities.
The campaign released the names of several investors in January, and more are expected to come forward as the campaign progresses. Ohio similarly legalized gambling, approving a constitutional amendment specifying sites for four casinos to be owned by the companies backing the amendment.
Grow sites, marijuana manufacturers and retail stores could not be located in exclusively zoned residential areas, according to the proposed amendment language. But "local zoning, land use laws, agricultural regulations, subdivision regulations or similar provisions" could not prevent marijuana establishments from being built or operated.
Site owners would pay a $100,000 fee, 15 percent tax on gross revenue and the state's commercial activity tax.
The group estimates the industry would generate $679 million annually in tax revenues by the fourth year of production, with most of the money funding local public services.
Colorado, one of the four states that has legalized recreational pot, brought in more than $44 million in taxes and fees during its first year.
The amendment is still silent on whether Ohioans would be able to grow cannabis for personal or medical use, leaving in place state and federal laws prohibiting it. But it doesn't explicitly ban home growing, allowing state lawmakers to allow it.
The group has pushed back on criticism the amendment would award a constitutional monopoly on growing cannabis in Ohio, noting entrepreneurs could manufacture marijuana brownies and other products or sell marijuana at retail stores and medical dispensaries. Five research and quality control testing sites would be located near colleges and universities in Athens, Lorain, Mahoning, Scioto and Wood counties.
ResponsibleOhio must collect 1,000 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters to submit to the attorney general its proposed language.
If approved by the attorney general, the group then must collect more than 305,591 signatures -- meeting thresholds in half of Ohio's 88 counties -- to be approved for the November 2015 ballot.
Jackie Borchardt ~ Connect Cleveland ~ February 10, 2015

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