Ohio: Medical Marijuana Has Popular Support, Lacks Money To Pass
By Steve Elliott
An overwhelming majority of Ohioans believe medical marijuana should be legal, according to a poll released last week. But the Buckeye State appears unlikely to change its cannabis laws this year, because a ballot drive doesn't have enough money, and the Republican-controlled Legislature won't bring the issue up for a vote.
Advocates with the Ohio Rights Group have gathered only 50,000 of the more than 385,000 signatures they'd need by July 2 to qualify for November's ballot, reports Chrissie Thompson at The Cincinnati Enquirer. Estimates for the amount needed to gather the remaining signatures and run a campaign run as high as $10.5 million. They only have about $50,000 in donations they've received or have been promised.
Ohio has no fewer than three medical marijuana amendments whose language has been approved by the Attorney General and the bipartisan Ohio Ballot Board. The Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment has the most signatures (it's the one with 50,000), but supporters would need to hire a signature gathering firm within a month to have any hope of qualifying for the ballot -- much less finance a campaign if they manage to squeak onto the ballot.
The Ohio Rights Group said it wants to meet with national groups such as the Marijuana Policy Project and the Drug Policy Alliance, both of which have helped to fund initiatives in other states. So far, the MPP, DPA, or other national groups haven't met with the ORG, according to John Pardee, president of the group. But Pardee said he'd heard the national groups were open to the idea.
National donors should be excited by the 8-to-1 support medical marijuana enjoys in Ohio, according to Bob Fitrakis, a political scientist at Columbus State Community College who ran for governor in 2006 as the Green Party candidate. Even Republican respondents to last week's Quinnipiac University poll supported medical marijuana -- at the rate of 78 percent.
"The other side can have a ton of money, but to blast away at 87 percent, that maybe might get it down to the 60s," Fitrakis said.
A slim majority of Ohioans in the poll, 51 percent, said they would support legalizing small amounts of marijuana for adults.
But despite the 87 percent support for medical marijuana in Ohio, the state's politicians won't legalize it through the Legislature.
Rep. Bob Hagan (D-Youngstown) has introduced two bills: one to legalize and regulate marijuana like alcohol, and another to allow patients to use cannabis for medicinal purposes. Hagan has only one Democratic co-sponsor on the legalization bill, and two on the medical marijuana bill.
"I think that there's a fear of people branding them in the next election as pot-smoking ne'er-do-wells," Hagan said of his fellow lawmakers. "I'm confused at why they continuously ignore the issues that I think would relieve a lot of people who are suffering from pain. Twenty states have already done it. Why are we so slow?"
But Republican Speaker of the House Bill Batchelder (R-Medina) said he "can't imagine" a scenario in which either measure advances in the House. "I know what's happened with the opioids," he said last week. "I know what's happening in our schools, what's happening with children who are presented with a dish full of medications."
Ohio Gov. John Kasich took a stand against medical marijuana in 2012. "Physicians tell me we don't need that," he claimed. "There's better ways to help people who are in pain."
"Marijuana is safer than any opiate drug out there," said cancer chemotherapy patient Rob Ryan of Cincinnati, who is also president of the Ohio chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) and also works for Law Enforcement Against Prohibition (LEAP).
"Opiates kill people," Ryan said. "Marijuana doesn't."