Ohio: Medical Marijuana Advocates Optimistic For 2014


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

Backers of Ohio's third attempt in less than two years to legalize medical marijuana believe that the third time's the charm. They insist their latest effort will be successful, as Michigan's was in 2008.

"There's far more interest in people backing this one, particularly those who want to bring people into the political arena in 2014," said Bob Fitrakis, a member of the Ohio Rights Group, which is behind the latest effort, reports Jim Provance of The Toledo Blade.

Both Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and the Ohio Ballot Board have approved language that would be shown to potential petition signers. But, skeptics point out, its two predecessors also reached that point, in late 2011 and early 2012, and both these efforts fizzled.

Ohio Rights Group members said they know the group will need financial support and probably a wealthy benefactor if it is to be successful at gathering almost 400,000 valid signatures from registered voters in the state.

Five of the six members making up the petition committee of the Ohio Rights Group were also on the petition committees for the 2011 and 2012 efforts, but they say they've learned some lessons along the way.

Unlike the first two medical marijuana petition drives, the proposed Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment contains the political buzzword "rights."

The aim of the measure, according to the group, is to combine support for medicinal cannabis with support for the industrial use of hemp.

"There's always been a split in the movement with some strongly advocating industrial hemp but not medical marijuana, and others wanting medical marijuana without wanting to deal with the hemp issue," said Fitrakis, an attorney and Columbus State Community College professor.

"We had two divided movements," Fitrakis said. "We're trying to put together one grand movement."

By bringing hemp into the measure, backers also hope for support from the current political mantra of "jobs," which helped convince Ohio voters in 2009 to embrace another industry they had rejected in the past -- casino gambling.

They hope to appeal to Appalachian farmers who might see hemp as a legal cash crop for sale -- whether for medical purposes or for the manufature of paper, clothing, fuel, rope, food and building materials from industrial hemp.

By aiming for 2014, when statewide candidates for governor, Congress, and the state Legislature will be on the ballot, supporters hope to attract factions which might see this as a way of getting voters galvanized enough to show up at the polls.

By taxing marijuana, they hope to also appeal to those who see cannabis in terms of new revenue.

"Twenty states have already done it," Fitrakis said. "The 21st [Illinois] will be coming on board, and that's usually where Ohio comes in."

Past bills in the Ohio Legislature to legalize medical marijuana were seen as dead on arrival, and a recently introduced measure by Rep. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) to legalize marijuana outright received almost no support.

The proposed amendment to Ohio's state constitution would leave most decisions to a new bipartisan Ohio Commission of Cannabis Control on dispensing marijuana; the state Department of Agriculture would be in charge of hemp production.

(Graphic: Tenth Amendment Center)