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Alex Mayer (not pictured) plans to open a Marijuana dispensary in Athens by 2016.

Battle to Legalize Marijuana Continues in 2016

Efforts to legalize marijuana in Ohio continue with Ohioans to End Prohibition's proposed Cannabis Control Amendment.

The failure of last year's ballot measure to legalize marijuana in Ohio was not the last Ohioans will hear about marijuana legalization.

Ohioans to End Prohibition (OTEP) and its president Sri Kavuru are continuing to push for legalized marijuana in Ohio this year with the addition of a possible 2016 ballot issue.

Except OTEP is doing it differently than ResponsibleOhio, the group behind last year’s failed marijuana amendment, which opponents claimed would create a monopoly.

Kavuru, an Ohio native, previously worked at the ArcView group, a cannabis investment and research company based in California. He came back to Ohio to campaign against Issue 3.

But Kavuru wanted to do more than just advocate against Issue 3.

OTEP’s campaign, called Legalize Ohio 2016, is working to get their proposed Cannabis Control Amendment on this year’s ballot.

“We’re going to show a different solution," Kavuru said. "We’re going to show that this is how you can legalize marijuana in a way that benefits everybody —entrepreneurs, patients, consumers, including the government.”

The amendment would allow various amounts of possession based on the type of substance; for example, 100 grams of marijuana and 500 grams of infused solids. Ohioans over 21 would be able to home-grow 6 plants per person, and households with more than two adults would be allowed 12 plants. The amendment would also allow medical marijuana and the cultivation of industrial hemp.

Currently, Ohioans are able to import hemp but cannot actually cultivate it.

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“The market is incalculable right now because all the technology for all the different ways we’re going to use this is just beginning to be understood,” Don Wirtshafter, an Athens lawyer and longtime marijuana advocate, said.

While specific figures for the hemp-based products market are difficult to come by, the Congressional Research Service said in a 2015 report that industry estimates put annual sales at more than $580 million.

Issue 3, if passed, would have established 10 grow sites across the state, with the established 1,100 retail outlets being supplied by the grow sites. Adults over 21 would be allowed to purchase, possess, transport and share up to one ounce of marijuana.

Those 21 or over with a license from the Marijuana Control Commision would have been able to use, posses, grow, or cultivate up to eight ounces, plus up to four flower plants.

“It was past corporatization,” Wirtshafter said. “It was a total, absolute monopoly control over all the production and processing of the plant.”

Wirtshafter, who previously served as general counsel for the Ohio Rights Group, said it was too early to tell how initiatives would fare this year. He resigned from his position at the advocacy group last year due to his disagreement with the decision-making process that led to the group’s support of Issue 3.

Wirtshafter said has been vocal about certain aspects of the Cannabis Control Amendment he thinks should be reconsidered, and he recently met with a couple of OTEP representatives.

Aside from campaigning and petitioning for signatures — the proposed Cannabis Control Amendment needs 306,000 total — Kavuru said the group has been working with the statehouse on some medical marijuana legislation, including drafting language that can be used in a proposed bill.

The Ohio House took a step forward this week and announced their plan to form a bipartisan task force on medical marijuana. 

While OTEP’s campaign has a self-proclaimed commitment to free-market principles, those principles had to be balanced with certain regulations.

“The laws are always written so that they’re very, very vague, and that leads to gray areas… gray area enforcement always errs on the side of criminal penalties,” Kavuru said.

The goal in developing the details of the amendment, Kavuru said, was to eliminate those gray areas.  

Another goal is to eliminate the black market, which Kavuru said could be done by making the cost of marijuana in the black market low enough — while the cost of legal marijuana remains reasonable — so that it no longer makes sense to produce illegally.

“We really need something to unify the activists in Ohio, because the way that Issue 3 was run last year clearly divided us,” Wirtshafter said.


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