Over the course of the past several years, a number of ballot initiatives aiming to legalize marijuana in the state of Ohio have been undertaken. All have been unsuccessful. The tides have since changed, and the legalization of cannabis in the Buckeye State is now a matter of when, not if. The race to legalize marijuana in Ohio is now on, and there are at least three groups who are trying to get their version of a constitutional amendment on the ballot in either 2015 or 2016.

The first group - Ohio Rights Group - is headed up by John Pardee and first submitted its amendment language for consideration in May 2013. They are the grassroots organization behind the Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment, which if enacted would have make it legal for Ohio residents aged 18 and older with a debilitating condition and who meet eligibility requirements to "use, possess, acquire, and produce Cannabis". Children would also qualify with the written consent of a parent or guardian. Initially, eligibility would be tied to a list of 30 debilitating conditions that could be expanded at some point. Eligible individuals or organizations would be permitted to "grow, process, and purchase therapeutic Cannabis in various forms such as plant, tinctures, edibles, and salves."

The Ohio Rights Group had been working on getting an amendment on marijuana on the ballot last year, but failed to deliver the needed 385,247 valid signatures by the deadline of July 2, 2014. Their primary hurdle appears to be raising enough funds to gather the required number of signatures, although there are some other internal issues that sources tell us have also hurt their efforts.

Another group recently made it known that they would be seeking to get their own version of a marijuana legalization initiative on the ballot in 2015. While the precise wording of the proposed amendment has not yet been unveiled, we expect that with the deadlines in place to get on the ballot this year, this should be made available shortly. This group, which calls themselves Responsible Ohio - is shrouded in mystery. Little has been made known publicly about who is involved in this initiative, which was first unveiled in December 2014.

What we do know is that this amendment seeks to crown 10 people kings of the marijuana industry in Ohio. These select 10 would essentially have a monopoly in Ohio, and would be the only ones permitted by law to grow marijuana legally. This is the same tactic that was used to install casino gambling in the state, which was ultimately successful and led to the passage of a constitutional amendment that provided for four casinos to be operated in the state in Toledo, Cleveland, Columbus, and Cincinnati.

Due to the nature of Responsible Ohio's proposal, we can assume that they are well-funded, and will have a well-supplied war chest to give their plan the financial backing that it will need to have a fighting chance. Those 10 people have surely already been determined, and have likely pledged their monetary support. Their plan, however, is already ruffling feathers with grassroots organizers and cannabis industry insiders, who do not support a monopoly approach to legalizing marijuana in Ohio.

Sources tell us that a third group - Ohioans to End Prohibition - is preparing to enter the fray and will in the coming weeks formally announce a ballot initiative that seeks to legalize marijuana. Though they've yet to publicly reveal any plans, sources tell us that their amendment would seek to legalize cannabis in Ohio for both medicinal and recreational purposes, would have no monopolies on growers, and would permit Ohio's farmers to legally grow industrial hemp. OTEP organizers have Ohio roots, but also claim ties to the cannabis industry in California `that have not been fully explained or illustrated to The Cleveland Leader at this time.

Ohioans to End Prohibition is said to be seeking to get on the 2016 ballot. If this group hopes to have any chance, they will need to actively work to see that other initiatives, mainly the Responsible Ohio plan, are defeated. At the same time, they will also need to spread their message and gather the required signatures. Do they have the funding and political know-how to make this happen? That remains to be seen.

The one thing that each of these three groups has in common is that they recognize that Ohio is poised to legalize marijuana. A May 2014 poll by Quinnipiac University showed that 87 percent of Ohioans supported legalizing marijuana for medical use, and 51% supported it for recreational use as well. Those statistics show that Ohioans are ready and open to the idea, and that if the right plan is presented, the prohibition on marijuana in Ohio will end with legalization.

Neither of the three efforts appears to have an easy road ahead of them, and each group has its pitfalls that they'll need to overcome. What is needed is a plan that is good for everyone - one that voters find palatable - and that has the financial backing to become a reality. Palatability, however, can be somewhat overcome with a large budget. It's not out of the realm of possibility that a fourth group could enter into the mix by the time 2016 rolls around or that some kind of merger of efforts could take place. For those with an eye on the industry, and an interest in legalizing pot in Ohio, the next year will be interesting to follow.

More will be known about the direction that these competing groups will be taking in the next few weeks, and in the meantime, The Cleveland Leader will be running a series that provides an in-depth analysis of each of the current players and their plans to make marijuana legal in Ohio. Check back with us on Wednesday for an analysis of the Responsible Ohio group, followed by Ohioans to End Prohibition on Thursday, and Ohio Rights Group on Friday.

Adam Lee Nemann
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Trial and Defense Attorney, Adjunct Professor of Law at Capital University, founder of Nemann Law Offices
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