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  • Citizen-led efforts could push Ohio lawmakers to step into legal weed

A direct democracy attempt to force the state legislature to act on recreational marijuana will have enough signatures by the end of the month to implement a plan, an organizer said on Friday.

Ohio attorney Thomas Haren, a representative of the “Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol,” said he expects enough signatures to be collected to move forward a proposal that would allow adult use, sale and possession of marijuana in Ohio.

“We think marijuana reform is popular,” he told a panel hosted by the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at Ohio State University School of Law.

“This is not a bipartisan issue. This is a non-partisan issue.

The coalition launched what is known in Ohio as an initiative bill. He proposed the architecture of a recreational marijuana program in Ohio. If state officials determine that the coalition has gathered the required 133,000 valid signatures, lawmakers in the Ohio General Assembly have four months to act on the proposal. If lawmakers fail, organizers must collect more signatures to send the proposal to a popular vote of the people in the next general election.

The Ohio polling station gave organizers the green light in late August to begin collecting signatures.

The proposal allows possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana or 15 grams of marijuana extract. Adults in Ohio can buy marijuana at retail stores or grow two plants at home (four if there are two adults living in the household).

Marijuana has reached a “tipping point” in the United States and the time to get on board was yesterday, according to Rep. Casey Weinstein, D-Hudson, one of the main sponsors of the House Democrats’ efforts on marijuana for recreational purposes.

Nineteen states and Washington DC have legalized personal marijuana, according to advocacy group NORML. The Gallup poll shows that 68% of Americans support the legalization of marijuana, the highest rate since the polling company began studying the issue in 1969. About 83% of Democrats polled, 71% of independents and 50% of Republicans have indicated their support. The Washington Post reported this week that while there is no agreement yet on its scale, bipartisan members of Congress are working on significant reforms to national marijuana laws.

“This is a situation where we are lagging behind the Ohioans,” Weinstein said, noting that the legislation initiated could give the legislature a sense of “urgency.”

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Mary Jane Borden, co-founder of the Natural Therapies Education Foundation, said Ohio lawmakers have a long history of slow marijuana legislation until attempts at direct democracy force them to act.

Between 2000 and 2010, seven marijuana bills were introduced, she said. Only one of them received more than just a preliminary hearing.

In 2016, organizers launched a campaign for a constitutional amendment to allow medical marijuana to be used in Ohio. They suspended the campaign after Governor John Kasich signed Bill 523, which created Ohio’s current platform.

As voters grow more in favor of marijuana, lawmakers are decidedly agnostic. Borden cited a recent survey of 41 Gongwer News Service members (the survey obtained a 31% response rate and does not necessarily represent the entire General Assembly). He found that among Democrats, 36% support legalization, compared to 14% who do not and 50% who are undecided. For Republicans, 43% support legalization, compared to 43% who do not and 14% who are undecided.

“Republicans are more supportive on this issue than we could possibly attribute to them,” said Haren, who identified himself as a Republican.

With such mixed advice from lawmakers, Borden said the “end” of a referendum may trigger action.

“What motivated the change [regarding medical marijuana] was obviously the question of the ballot, ”she said. “Similar to what [Haren] done now.

Moving parts

Besides Haren, there are three key things to watch out for regarding marijuana policy in Ohio.

On the one hand, House Democrats Weinstein and Terrence Upchurch, D-Cleveland, introduced their own legislation, with key differences from the bill initiated. Their bill contains a write-off program, allows possession of up to five ounces of marijuana, and others.

The legislation, introduced in August, has yet to receive its first hearing by the House finance committee.

For two, House Republicans announced their own proposal quite similar to the Democrats’ plan. When announcing the legislation last month, sponsoring representatives Jamie Callender, R-Concord and Ron Ferguson, R-Wintersville, admitted it was moonlight, but said they believed be able to convince the President of the Chamber, in particular given the pressure that a law initiated can provide.

They have yet to formally introduce a bill. A Callender aide said on Friday they hoped to release an invoice around Thanksgiving, but did not have details of any changes from what had been announced.

Third, a bipartisan group of Ohio senators earlier this month proposed a large expansion of the current medical marijuana program. Their bill would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana whenever they “reasonably” think a patient could benefit from it. A Senate committee held its first hearing on the bill last week.

Originally published by the Ohio Capital Journal. Republished here with permission.

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