Local group seeks to decriminalize marijuana in ballot measureWritten by Danielle Stanton | | firstname.lastname@example.org
Alaska, Colorado and Washington recently legalized marijuana and many believe Ohio could be next.
Four groups based out of Columbus are working to make marijuana legal in Ohio by amending the state constitution.
Meanwhile in Toledo, a local group is working to decriminalize marijuana in the Glass City. The Sensible Marijuana Ordinance recently made it onto the ballot and will go before voters in September.
The Northwest Ohio Chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) collected around 13,000 signatures between May and early August 2014; they needed about 6,000 to be valid.
Sean Nestor of Northwest Ohio NORML said Ohio is considered a “decriminalized state” because it has a history of being more lenient with marijuana offenses than many other states.
“We’re saying we want to be as lenient as possible,” Nestor said. “Since Colorado and Washington has legalized, everyone is revisiting the issue and we can be on the cutting edge of that to reduce penalties. It’s not legalization, but decriminalization.”
All misdemeanors would be made fifth-degree misdemeanors, and all felonies would be fifth-degree felonies, Nestor said. The ordinance would lower all marijuana penalities to the lowest level possible and still remain in compliance with state law. There may still be a charge and a court apperance required, but there would not be a fine for marijuana use and no jail time would be given.
“Even though this does not make it legal, it takes away the penalty and gives people the ability to take control of their own lives,” said Mary Smith, president of Northwest Ohio NORML. “We’re not talking about cartels, we’re talking about cancer patients and soccer moms who want to live to see next week. These people have been medicating themselves for years up until this point. Let them do it.”
Toledo Police Department (TPD) Public Information Officer Sgt. Joe Heffernan declined to comment on the proposed ordinance.
“We don’t like to get involved in legislation,” Heffernan said. “Our job is simply to enforce laws the legislators make.”
In 2013, TPD seized 373,796 grams of marijuana and 781 plants, and through November 2014, seized 359,852 grams of marijuana and 1,262 plants. Misdemeanor amounts of marijuana are not tracked by TPD; these numbers include only felony seizures.
Nineteen states and the District of Columbia have eliminated jail time for marijuana possession, according to a March 6 article in Hemp News, a publication based out of Portland, Oregon.
Six other cities in Ohio are also planning a ballot initiative to decriminalize marijuana, Nestor said, and his group plans a grassroots effort to help them.
NORML’s reasoning for supporting the change in law goes to the heart of the science behind the marijuana plant.
Smith touts hemp as a wonder drug capable of multiple uses, from biodiesel fuel to plastics. The science is controversial, but its use as a medical plant is gaining nationwide appeal.
In addition to helping cancer patients, decriminalizing marijuana will cut down on jail overcrowding, Smith said.
“There are so many benefits to this plant, not just on a medical or industrial level — this plant can do so much,” Smith said. “People sometimes don’t take us seriously; they think we are making up the story, but it really is the facts.”
Even one of our Founding Fathers, President Thomas Jefferson, grew the hemp plant and didn’t worry about which strain to grow because the plant was not regulated in the 1700s, Smith said.
The U.S. Navy still uses ropes made of hemp because it’s the strongest fiber available, she said.
Negative propaganda against the hemp plant began in the 1930s, she said. Rumor has it that DuPont, a leader in plastic products, put the squash on it because it was found that the hemp plant could make biodegradable plastic, according to Smith.
Marijuana is said to be the least harmful drug compared to alcohol, heroin or meth, given that hundreds of people die from alcohol-related vehicle accidents and dozens overdose on heroin every year.
Smith believes marijuana users should not be considered criminals.
“We’re Americans. We’re adults. Let us live our lives,” Smith said. “We’re not the people out causing all the problems.”
Ohio NORML has seven chapters across the state.
Four states have adopted laws that regulate and tax marijuana similarly to alcohol. Three of them, Alaska, Colorado and Washington, have established regulated systems of marijuana cultivation and sales. Oregon is in the process of implementing a similar system, according to Hemp News.
ResponsibleOhio, a Columbus-based organization, plans to collect signatures to get their initiative to amend the state’s constitution on the November ballot. Their goal: to make marijuana legal in the state of Ohio for medical and personal use.
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine signed off on their ballot language March 13. In order to be on the ballot, the Ohio Ballot Board needs to give their approval next and then they will need to gather 305,591 valid signatures from at least half of Ohio’s counties.
ResponsibleOhio is made up of wealthy investors who plan to establish 10 grow sites that will compete with one another for quality and price. These 10 wholesale sites will ship their product to retail sites. The group plans on approving more than 1,000 retail permits.
Those 21 years of age or older would be able to use the drug and also grow it at home. Growers could have up to four flowering plants.
The system would have a 15 percent flat tax through the supply chains and the retail stores would pay a 15 percent tax on all gross revenue, said Lydia Bolander, spokesperson for ResponsibleOhio. The consumer would pay 5 percent tax at the retail store in addition to sales tax.
The estimated total tax revenue once the market is fully established by 2020 is $554 million, Bolander said.
Smith and John Pardee of the Ohio Rights Group, a Columbus-based organization that is also collecting signatures to legalize marijuana, said ResponsibleOhio will create a monopoly on the industry in Ohio, a negative that will be hard to reverse if the constitution is amended.
“It’s not a good idea for Ohio. [ResponsibleOhio] is a bunch of privateer businessmen,” Smith said. “They want to make $1 million on marijuana. They don’t know anything about the industry. The organization wants such drastic control on the plant. They just want money and they don’t care about the benefit to the country.”
“Down the road, federal prohibition will fall. When it falls, we’re still stuck with a bad state law,” Pardee said.
Bolander said that the initiative brings the potential for more jobs and an increase in the tax revenue which will sway voters.
“First of all, each of these 10 companies have to compete with each other. They have to run a good business to make a profit. Anyone can be a producer of their own marijuana as long as they’re over 21 and registered with the commission, which ResponsibleOhio will establish” Bolander said. “It’s fundamentally not a monopoly if everyone has the ability to take part in it. There’s so many ways people can be involved in this market.”
The other two organizations working on legalizing marijuana in Ohio are Responsible Ohioans for Cannabis and Ohioans to End Prohibition.
Ohio Rights Group
Pardee’s organization wants to legalize marijuana for medical and industrial use.
Eighty-seven percent of Ohioans favor legalizing marijuana, according to a 2014 poll, Pardee said.
His team is “working themselves to the bone” to gather enough signatures to get the measure on the ballot. They need more than half a million valid signatures and have collected 150,000 as of March 9.
Ohio Rights Group will establish a commission to regulate the new law, much like the way alcohol is regulated.
Pardee called ResponsibleOhio a “corporate effort” whereas he is organizing a “grassroots effort.”
“The term David and Goliath has been used quite often, and remember who won that battle,” Pardee said. “We have the message and most of the people are backing us. I think we have a pretty good chance.
“We don’t want to have [marijuana] in vending machines. We want to make sure going forward the industry is developed with health and safety in mind. We want to make sure it’s not going into the hands of children. We want to make sure it’s kept behind the counter at stores and only for those legally allowed access.”
Tags: John Pardee, Mary Smith, National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), NORML, Ohioans to End Prohibition, Responsible Ohioans for Cannabis, ResponsibleOhio, Sean Nestor, Sensible Marijuana Ordinance