A group of Ohio medical marijuana growers are at the center of a new coalition that’s launching a campaign to get recreational legalization on the ballot this November. By the end of the week, the Ohio marijuana business owners will file petitions with the state attorney general’s office to begin the ballot measure process.

If the effort succeeds at getting legalization on the November ballot, voters will decide to approve or reject an amendment that would allow those 21 and older to buy, possess and consume up to one ounce of dried flower, as well as grow up to six cannabis plants in a private residence. If the measure passes, Ohio could begin adult-use retail sales as early as July 2021.

Legalization Advocates Must Collect 442,958 Signatures By July 1

Tom Haren, an attorney from Northeast Ohio who has represented several Ohio marijuana businesses in litigation against the state and its licensing process, and Mike Hartley, a Columbus-based Republican consultant, are representing and working with the group of medical cannabis growers launching Ohio’s latest effort to legalize recreational marijuana. After submitting their initial petition to put the issue on the ballot, the group will have four months to collect nearly 443,000 signatures from registered voters ahead of a July 1 deadline.

In 2015, Ohio voters roundly rejected a recreational legalization ballot measure. It wasn’t that Ohioans were against the idea of legalization in general—though many more support it now—so much as they opposed the particular amendment on the ballot. The 2015 amendment would have limited licensed commercial cultivation sites to 10 facilities owned exclusively by the amendment’s financial backers.

In this way, 2020’s newest effort to legalize recreational looks a lot like 2015’s. The coalition pushing the amendment, a group made up of medical cannabis business owners represented by an industry lawyer and a Republican political strategist, is proposing to give Ohio’s existing medical marijuana businesses priority for licenses in the recreational sector. Only after existing companies had their chance to move into the retail market would state regulators consider issuing additional licenses to new entrants.

Efforts to Legalize Recreational Marijuana in Ohio Costs Millions

But even though it would give them priority in a highly competitive application process, not all Ohio medical cannabis businesses are backing the ballot initiative. The Ohio Medical Cannabis Cultivators Association, representing 15 Ohio businesses, is one industry group opposing the plan. The group’s associate director, Thomas Rosenberger, said growers are focused on improving the medical program and not currently interested in supporting a recreational legalization effort.

That kind of opposition, before petitions are even filed, suggests legalization advocates face a tough road from March to November. The journey will also be an expensive one. It’s common for industry-backed legalization advocates to spend millions of dollars on professional signature gathering firms during the petition stage. But according to the Marijuana Policy Project, the process in Ohio could cost four to six times more than average. The cost is so high, MPP said it will not pursue a legalization campaign in Ohio and is instead focusing resources on other states.

Medical cannabis is legal in Ohio under a highly restrictive program that grants access to patients with one of a narrow list of qualifying conditions. Medical sales began in January 2019, but only sold $60.6 million worth of cannabis products in the first year. In July of last year, Ohio legalized the sale of hemp and hemp-derived CBD. Major cities in the state, including Cincinnati and Cleveland, have implemented a handful of decriminalization measures.

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