Image of Ohio marijuana legalization logo
Robert Higgs ~ Northeast Ohio Media Group ~
 
COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A decision by the Ohio Ballot Board on Friday cleared the way for ResponsibleOhio to start gathering signatures needed to put its marijuana legalization ballot issue before Ohio voters this fall.
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The amendment to the state constitution would establish a legal marijuana industry in which Ohioans could purchase weed for recreational and medical uses from retail outlets licensed by the state.
 
A spokeswoman for ResponsibleOhio said the signature gathering will begin quickly, perhaps as soon as next week.
 
The Ballot Board, chaired by Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted, agreed Friday that ResponsibleOhio's proposal amounts to one constitutional amendment. Had the board decided the language contained more than one issue, it could have voted to split them into separate ballot questions. That would have forced ResponsibleOhio to start the review process all over again.
 
The next step toward the ballot requires petitioners to collect 305,591 signatures of registered voters. The total is equal to 10 percent of the vote in the 2014 gubernatorial contest. Those signatures must be gathered from at least 44 of Ohio's 88 counties, and in each of 44 counties, the total gathered must amount to 5 percent of the 2014 gubernatorial vote locally.
 
Signatures must be submitted by July.
 
Campaign spokeswoman Lydia Bolander said Friday that the circulating of petitions will provide ResponsibleOhio with a chance to talk to voters about why it is seeking to change Ohio's laws.
 
It previously has argued that prohibition has failed, that the current laws deny medical patients access to marijuana treatments that could ease their suffering and that the state is wasting $120 million each year to enforce these bad laws.
 
"As we collect signatures, we have to collect in a majority of counties. We'd like to be in every county," Bolander said. And other events, such as town hall meetings, could be organized down the road. ResponsibleOhio's amendment would allow 10 growing sites promised to campaign investors. Entrepreneurs would be able to apply for licenses to manufacture marijuana products and sell weed at retail stores and nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries.
 
Recreational marijuana would be taxed at 15 percent at the wholesale and manufacturing levels and 5 percent at retail locations. Most tax revenue would go to local governments to pay for roads, police and other public services while 15 percent would go toward marijuana research, addiction services and enforcement.
 
Adults over age 21 could also possess up to four flowering marijuana plants and 8 ounces of dried marijuana for personal use -- provided they obtain a license from the state.
 
The proposed amendment cleared its first hurdle to the ballot a week ago when Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine certified that a summary of the petition language met the proper legal form.
 
DeWine had rejected the group's first submitted amendment, finding at least two places where the summary did not match the proposed amendment.
 
DeWine has said he personally opposes the idea of marijuana legalization. But he acknowledged that on the second try, ResponsibleOhio's language was proper.
 
"Without passing upon the advisability of the approval or rejection of the measure to be referred. ... I hereby certify that the summary is a fair and truthful statement of the proposed law," DeWine said in a letter to the petitioners.
 
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