Ohio: Group Close To Getting Legalization On Ballot; Accused Of Sabotaging Grassroots Effort


By Steve Elliott
Hemp News

The group ResponsibleOhio claims it is more than halfway towards its goal of getting marijuana legalization on the state ballot. But advocates trying to put a rival initiative on the November 5 ballot have accused founders of the well-financed ResponsibleOhio of sabotaging its smaller, weaker competitor last year before launching its own effort.

"We have over 160,000 signatures," said Ian James of ResponsibleOhio, reports Elizabeth Faugl at ABC 6. "By the end of this week, we'll have over 200,000. We are shooting for over 700,000 signatures."

But in an April 14 complaint to the Ohio Elections Commission, Ohio Rights Group said the people who went on to create ResponsibleOnhio infiltrated the ORG to get information and talk potential donors out of making contributions, reports Anne Saker at the Cincinnati Enquirer. The complaint accuses Ian James and David Bruno of promising help to ORG then using the knowledge gained to form their own group.

According to the complaint, Bruno used his childhood friendship with ORG Executive Director John Pardee to gain knowledge, and Bruno was taking consultant's fees from ORG while planning ResponsibleOhio.

ResponsibleOhio, seen as a "corporate cannabis" group, admits its pays signature gatherers. "This is going from the tie-dyed to the suit and tie approach for marijuana legalization," James said. "On a weekly basis we're getting anywhere from 4,200 to 5,600 new voter registrations and we're turning those in to all the boards of elections."

Spokeswoman Lydia Bolander of ResponsibleOhio on Tuesday scoffed at the accusations. "This is a bogus complaint," she said. "In their filing, they describe their own campaign as crippled, and now they're blaming others -- it's just sad.

"ResponsibleOhio is excited to have an excellent team of campaign professionals working to pass the Marijuana Legalization Amendment this year," Bolander said. "We look forward to continuing this positive momentum in the coming months."

The grassroots Ohio Rights Group was formed in January 2013 to collect signatures for the Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment, which would give sick and disabled state residents the right to use marijuana medicinally and allow farmers to grow industrial hemp. The group collected 150,000 signatures to get its proposed constitutional amendment on the 2014 ballot, about 50 percent short of the required number.

ResponsibleOhio was formed in June 2014, and has pulled together a group of wealthy Ohioans, including Woody and Dudley Taft, Cincinnati developer David Bastos and restaurateur Nick Lachey to campaign for a constitutional amendment to establish a Marijuana Control Commission.

Their plan calls for just 10 farms around the state to grow and control the crop, and for a limited group of entrepreneurs to process, sell and profit from cannabis. Activists with ORG and Ohioans to End Prohibition have characterized the plan as creating a marijuana monopoly.

Graphic: Legalize Ohio