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Not All Backers Of Legal Marijuana Support Issue 3

Ohio voters have a chance to legalize marijuana for both medical and personal use this fall.Issue 3 would allow a change in the constitution to establish ten growing sites, more than 1100 retail stores and limited home growing. But as Ohio Public Radio’s Jo Ingles reports in part four of her five part series, some people who support legalizing pot say they’ll vote no on this plan.  

Former state lawmaker Bob Hagan has long been a proponent of legalizing marijuana in Ohio. The Democrat from Youngstown says he came to that conclusion ten years ago after watching his father die from cancer.

“He was heavily medicated in his last days with morphine. I certainly would have given him anything to alleviate the pain that he was going through from the treatments of cancers that he had. So the impetus of course was, look, if the pain is being relieved by some individuals through the use of marijuana, let’s legalize it,” Hagan said.

And so for nearly a decade, Hagan fought year after year to get the Ohio legislature to at least legalize medical marijuana. 

“I could not find any avenues of support,” Hagans said.

So he took a different tack. He tried to get lawmakers to put both medicinal and personal use of marijuana on the ballot. But that went nowhere. Meanwhile, advocates for legalized marijuana in Ohio tried to put issues before voters. They’re still trying to do it on their own and are not buying into ResponsibleOhio’s plan. Jacob Wagner is with Ohioans to End Prohibition, a group that wants to put an all-out legalization of marijuana on the ballot in 2016. His group has a goal to collect 306,000 valid signatures by next July. Wagner says if voters pass his group’s plan next year, they can make Ohio safer for everyone.

“We do sincerely believe that we can come pretty close to eradicating the black market here in Ohio,” Wagner says.

Wagner says Issue 3 has some problems, like the limits on growing and use, that would continue to make it hard for Ohioans to buy and use pot legally.  The Ohio Rights Group is also circulating petitions to put a different issue on the ballot next year – one that would allow only medical marijuana and hemp. And that group is also in the petition signature gathering phase.  These groups are not alone in questioning ResponsibleOhio’s plan. Growers from outside Ohio are watching to see what happens here. Richard Comstock grew marijuana in Colorado years ago but has recently moved his operation to California after big investors and government restrictions took over the pot market in Colorado. Comstock questions the legitimacy of Issue 3’s limit on ten growers in the Buckeye State.

“They’re the only ones that can grow weed? Sounds like a scam to me,” Comstock said.

Comstock said it’s important to remember the marijuana business is not like others. He says state and local government keep making new rules because of problems that come about because the federal government designates pot as a schedule one substance like heroin and ecstasy. Comstock says that makes it hard on growers and dispensaries to do business. For example, he says banking is difficult.

“You know try running a business where you can’t put your money in the bank. Cash only. Go to the grocery store and pay a $40,000 electric bill in cash, the girl behind the service desk is about to have a heart attack. I can’t process credit cards,” Comstock says.

Ben Markus is a reporter with Colorado Public Radio. He says there are pot business owners in Colorado who deal in cash but he says there are other options.

“They have maybe a dozen bank accounts where they can spread money around to keep from getting shut down or if they get shut down, they can move it to another account. It just takes a lot of creative maneuvering. Maybe you put it in a holding company that the bank can’t quite know. And you have to keep the money from smelling like marijuana so the famous story is of the dispensary wrapping their money in dryer cloths,” Markus said.

Markus says there has been a need to tweak and refine the marijuana industry in Colorado as it grows and adds much of it is uncharted territory. Norml, an organization that’s been working for pot legalization for decades has endorsed Issue 3. And former State Representative Bob Hagan says he has some questions of his own about how ResponsibleOhio’s plan will play out in Ohio. But he’s not willing to wait for another plan that might materialize in the future. He is supporting Issue 3 because he thinks it is a step in the right direction. It’s also important to note Hagan’s sister in law, fashion designer Nanette Lepore Hagan, is one of the initial investors in the ResponsibleOhio plan.

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