Ganja games in the land of the buckeyes


Since Colorado voted to legalize recreational marijuana in 2012, there have been a slew of legalization votes around the country — and the good guys have won most of them.

The most spectacular fail was in Ohio.

In 2015, Ohio voters rejected Ballot Issue 3, which would have legalized recreational pot in the state. “Rejected” understates what happened. Issue 3 lost by a nearly 2 to 1 margin. It lost in every one of Ohio’s 88 counties. It lost despite the fact that the measure’s backers had raised and spent more than $20 million getting it on the ballot and campaigning for it. It was a “Not only no, but hell no, and don’t you forget it!” kind of rejection.

So was Ohio a black hole of reefer madness? Nope. A poll taken a month before the 2015 election found that 53 percent of the voters actually supported legal recreational marijuana. And less than a year after the defeat of Issue 3, the Ohio legislature passed a medical marijuana bill.

The problem wasn’t that Ohioans were anti-pot. The problem was that they were anti-Issue 3.

Issue 3 read a lot like the legalization initiatives passed in Colorado, California and Massachusetts. It legalized possession for personal use, allowed Ohioans to grow a few plants of their own, provided for legal production and retail sales, and so on.

But there was a catch. It also contained a provision that proved to be a deal-breaker of catastrophic proportions: A clause that limited commercial growing of marijuana in Ohio to 10 specific locations — that happened to be controlled by Issue 3’s main sponsors and campaign funders.

Issue 3 wasn’t a citizen-sponsored grass roots initiative. The proposal was the product of a group of investors that figured they could make a killing if they could pass a recreational/medical marijuana legalization initiative that also gave them a monopoly over where legal pot could be grown in the state — and what’s more, they tried to write that monopoly into the state’s constitution.

So, they created a group called ResponsibleOhio, which dropped more than $20 million petitioning Issue 3 onto the ballot and campaigning for it.

Brilliant idea, but the voters gagged on it.

One of the co-founders of ResponsibleOhio is a guy named Jimmy Gould, who is the chairman of Cincinnati-based Green Light Acquistions and CEO of CannAscend, the last company that unsuccessfully applied for one of a handful of medical marijuana production licenses the state of Ohio is preparing to issue (he’s suing).

Gould is a long-time supporter of marijuana legalization for ideological reasons as well as for business ones. And evidently he doesn’t give up easily. Earlier this week he announced a new petition drive for recreational marijuana in Ohio, this time without the poison pill provision that doomed Issue 3.

The new proposal “is as different from Issue 3 as night and day… This is not Issue 3 revisited,” Gould said.

“The concept of the rich getting richer goes right out the window with this,” he added.

Although the language of the new proposal hasn’t been finalized, it would fully legalize marijuana use, cultivation, possession, processing and dispensing, and regulate it like Ohio’s alcohol-related businesses, Gould said.

He also said that he and his backers would spend “whatever it takes” to get his new proposal on the ballot.

They will have to gather 305,592 valid signatures to get the proposal on the ballot. The petition drive will start next month.

The biggest challenge here may be how Ohioans perceive Gould, and whether they can keep that separate from how they perceive his latest initiative.

Still Gould probably had the wit and resources to pay for some statewide polling before deciding to go public with his latest proposal. Chances are the results were promising or he wouldn’t be coming forward.

The fact that Gould conflates making money with doing the right thing makes me cringe some, but the fact that he’s completely candid about it — together with the fact that he appears to have learned from overreaching on Issue 3 — may keep that from becoming a major issue.

America is the land of second chances. Maybe Ohio voters will give him one. 

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