Campaign Seeks Recreational Marijuana Amendment on Ohio Ballot in November 2018

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BRIAN SHAMBLEN
  • BRIAN SHAMBLEN

A team of prospective southeast Ohio marijuana investors will aim for a constitutional amendment to be placed before voters in November 2018, which would fully legalize pot across the state. You may remember these folks: Jimmy Gould, Ian James and others ran the 2015 ResponsibleOhio ballot campaign, which ultimately failed by a 64-36 vote margin. The team had invested more than $20 million in that campaign.

Now, though, they’re back with an intent to get a “free market adult consumption” legal marijuana measure under way by the end of 2018. The main idea involves a regulated structure that mirrors Ohio’s medical marijuana law in some ways and Ohio’s alcohol regulations in other ways. Cues will be taken from Colorado, Oregon and other legal marijuana states, as well.



Some sense of the proposed ballot language is expected in January, Gould said. You may offer suggestions to the team at ballot@gla.holdings.

Recall that the 2015 ResponsibleOhio measure would have instituted something akin to a monopoly, with 10 named investors locked in as the sole sources of legal marijuana cultivation in Ohio. That arrangement, dubbed a “cartel” by many an op-ed writer, was the apparent death knell of that electoral effort. Gould specified this week that dispensary licenses and testing certification would have been a more open process in that measure, but that the “monopoly” conversation prevented any public debate from reaching that point. “We took that,” Gould said this week. “We understood it, we listened to people. We talked to a lot of people. We covered our losses.”



The path to the ballot involves obtaining some 305,000 signatures from registered Ohio voters — something that ResponsibleOhio achieved in 2015.

“We are going to do everything within our power, within our money, within our influence — we are going to do everything to make sure that the people of Ohio get what they want, which is to be a part of the process,” he said on Monday. “This isn’t where Issue 3 started. That was then and this is now. Free market. Anybody 21 and over can participate. Home grown? Follow the Oregon model. Four plants per household.”

Additional ideas that Gould offered in an aerial view during his Monday remarks included: legal hemp cultivation on Ohio farms; local control over the law; no public consumption; proximity limitations on marijuana businesses (500 feet from public schools, like the current medical marijuana law); and landlord rights, with regard to home grows.

This latest announcement came hot on the heels of news that the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program had awarded its 12 Level-I cultivation licenses, which allow approved companies around the state to grow cannabis in facilities of up to 25,000 square feet. Gould and James, who had applied for a license in southeast Ohio under the name CannAscend, did not score high enough for a license.

In his Monday press conference, Gould said that the state had signalled in some way that CannAscend held good standing for a cultivation license. “When they announced the licenses, literally that day I was stunned,” he said. “I was stunned of the attitude that was conveyed in not getting it. There was dead silence — like an eerie silence — that was kind of following around everything.”

Gould led a charge of threatening legal action after the licenses were awarded, telling the public that his team has found a concerning “pattern” in how the licenses were awarded. “When we announce what that pattern is, it’s going to stun you,” he said on Monday.

In a press release last week, he laid out 10 specific questions about how licenses were awarded; “One award winner has numerous fatal flaws in their application,” he wrote, “including failures to submit required forms, failure to obtain criminal background checks for persons who may significantly influence or control the activities of the cultivator, and so forth.”

“We plan to challenge the entire process and seek a complete review of all scores and re-assessment by new graders, with proper oversight,” he wrote, “because this process is severely broken.” No civil complaints or legal proceedings have been filed as of Dec. 11.

The state has not formally responded to Gould’s claims, though state auditor Dave Yost has called for an independent investigation into the process. Yost’s statement revolved around the revelation that one of the scorers of the applications had pleaded guilty to “manufacturing, delivering and possessing drugs, with intent to manufacture or deliver” in 2005 in Pennsylvania. Observers throughout the state called into the question the integrity of the scoring process.

“This is an epic fail,” Yost told WKSU last week. “I am outraged.”

Indeed, the state has yet to confirm whether background checks were done on any of the individuals who assisted in scoring the license applications.


Gould and James had teased the idea of a free-market recreational marijuana ballot initiative in early 2016, shortly after the failed ResponsibleOhio bid. Now, though, with the medical marijuana law trundling along, Gould is prepared to return to voters.

The campaign began this week. And on a semantic end-note, Gould offered this: “We don’t call it recreational. That’s a term the media uses. We call it adult consumption.”

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