Photo via David Shankbone
Ohio voters could legalize adult-use recreational cannabis as soon as next year. At an announcement on Monday, Jimmy Gould and Ian James — the businessmen behind both Ohio’s failed legalization effort in 2015 and a medical marijuana company that was denied a license by Ohio officials last week — told reporters that they will introduce a ballot measure to fully legalize the plant in the state in coming months, with plans to spend “whatever it takes” to put the question in front of voters by next November.
In the public announcement, Gould touted the yet-to-be-written "Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Amendment" as “the best amendment that we think will pass and does the most good for Ohioans."
And while all regulations are strictly hypothetical at this point, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the duo said that, if passed, the ballot measure would legalize the growth, sale, and possession of recreational cannabis and industrial hemp, while creating a statewide licensing system for marijuana production and distribution much like, as the legislation’s tentative name suggests, the state’s beer and liquor industry.
"I guess we’ll find out how much adult citizens want to be able to administer (cannabis) for themselves,'' Gould said. "I think people want to have more control over their lives.''
In their first attempt to bring legal weed to the Buckeye State as the faces and funds behind ResponsibleOhio’s 2015 ballot measure (Issue 3), Gould and James were heavily criticized for a proposed medical marijuana program that would have created a virtual monopoly run by only a few deep-pocketed cannabusinesses. With opposition from both legalization advocates and critics of the plant, Issue 3 was rejected in each and every one of Ohio’s 88 counties.
At Monday’s announcement, Gould made an effort to explicitly distance the soon-to-come legalization effort from Issue 3, claiming no special interests would have governing power in the new legislation.
"This is not a reborn Issue 3," Gould said. "There's no control here by anybody — this is free market."
In addition to local municipal control over retail cannabis shops and a four plant-per-person home-grow plan, Gould said that the “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Amendment” would retain the state’s ban on public consumption of cannabis.
No matter how many promises Gould and James make about their open market intentions, though, early responses to Monday’s legalization announcement suggest that the pair will have a tough time shedding their less-than-stellar reputation.
"The initiative constitutional amendment proposed today is yet another ill-conceived ballot initiative with dishonest intentions,'' State Rep. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) said to the Cincinnati Enquirer. "This is another proposal attempting to use the Ohio Constitution as a means for a special interest to make a profit at the expense of the taxpayers of Ohio.''
With the remnants of Issue 3 still lingering like a bad taste for most Ohioans, Gould and James could have a long road ahead, especially considering the duo made headlines once again last week after their proposed medical marijuana business CannAscend was denied a cultivation license. In the days following, Gould made public rebukes and threats of legal action against the Ohio’s medical marijuana program, pointing fingers at one specific application grader who was arrested for drug crimes over 10 years ago.
Those challenges were quickly dismissed by the Ohio Department of Commerce, the state agency at the helm of the medical marijuana licensing process, creating yet another strain in the relationship between Gould, James, and Buckeye State bud.
Since Gould’s public outburst against the Department of Commerce — a line of grievance which he continued at Monday’s announcement — another entirely separate Ohio medical marijuana license reviewer has had their qualifications and conflicts of interest called into question. The Cleveland Plain Dealer reports that license grader Keoki Wing, the chief financial officer for Arizona’s Meade & Wing LLC, failed to disclose his connection with the ownership group behind Harvest Grow LLC, the last Ohio cultivator awarded a grow license last week. According to his LinkedIn page, Wing was at one point an employee of another Arizona company owned and operated by the same people behind Harvest Grow.
It is not yet clear what Department of Commerce officials plan to do about Wing’s cultivator connection, but in their Monday announcement, Gould and James told reporters that their proposed recreational cannabis program would exist parallel to the state’s impending medical program and remain unchanged.
Before Gould and James get ahead of themselves, they will first need to collect at least 305,592 petition signatures by July 4th, 2018, and that’s after they actually put pen to paper and write the measure.