Ohio MMJ Effort Dies

Activists who tried to put medical marijuana on the ballot in Ohio have called it quits, for now.

The Ohio Rights Group worked for several months to put a medical marijuana initiative on the November ballot. They needed about 386,000 voter signatures to succeed, and as of early July they had gathered just 100,000.

As in some other states, ballot initiatives are costly affairs in Ohio, and the group couldn’t raise enough money to do it. The early steps in the process are relatively simple, but signature gathering requires substantial amounts of cash.

“They’ve thrown every roadblock they can at us,” said John Pardee, president of the Ohio Rights Group.

Supporters of the initiative faced an uphill battle from the start. Earlier this year, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine rejected the group’s initial petition, saying it wasn’t a fair and truthful description of the proposal. The group rewrote the petition, which was approved on the second try.

Ohio is a swing state, politically, but its culture is relatively conservative. Lawmakers decriminalized marijuana possession in the 1970s, but pot policy hasn’t advanced far since.

Pardee said many people, especially professionals, declined to sign the petition because they feared for their jobs.

But cost was the biggest barrier. Pardee said he’s proud of the volunteers who gathered signatures. But a serious ballot effort requires at least $2 million, he said, and big donors failed to materialize.

“You either have to have the most robust army the state has ever seen or you have to have 2 million bucks in the bank,” Pardee said. “We feel the way it’s structured here in Ohio right now is very prohibitive for citizens to advance their cause and allow fellow citizens to weight in on it.”

State law makes it especially difficult to get an initiative on the ballot, especially one that isn’t backed by Ohio’s political leaders. Last year, lawmakers passed a bill shortening the amount of time groups have to go back for more signatures if they come up short. The law also imposes prohibitive electronic filing requirements

Also, volunteers must collect signatures from 5 percent of voters in each of 44 counties, half the counties in Ohio. If voters move or change their names, their signatures are rejected.

The Ohio Rights Group doesn’t view this year’s defeat as an end to the process. The group is still collecting signatures, hoping to put the issue on the 2015 ballot instead.

About Brian Ellis

With 6 years' experience in business journalism, Brian is the person we turn to for anything related to the business of cannabis. His news coverage spans topics including marijuana business and finance. Brian's work features on marijuanareferral.com, marijuanamerchantaccount.com and marijuanainsuranceagent.com.