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Controversial Ohio Pot Legalization Proposal Makes The Ballot

The ResponsibleOhio campaign to legalize medical and recreational marijuana has qualified for the 2015 ballot. Many local political officials and national marijuana activists oppose the plan, saying it would create a marijuana cartel.

Posted on August 12, 2015, at 5:08 p.m. ET

Ohio will now definitely have the chance to vote on legalizing marijuana this fall.

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted announced Wednesday that the ResponsibleOhio campaign had successfully gathered the final signatures necessary to get a constitutional amendment legalizing medical and recreational marijuana on the November 2015 ballot.

The controversial initiative would restrict all cultivation and extraction of marijuana to 10 specific pieces of land, all of which are owned and operated by the same group of investors bankrolling the campaign to pass the initiative. An additional 1,150 licenses for retail stores and testing labs would be available to anyone who applied, and individuals would be allowed to grow up to four plants at home after obtaining a $50 license. Critics, including Ohio legislators and some marijuana legalization activists, have denounced the proposal as a plan to create a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel, because it restricts production to a small cadre of affluent investors.

ResponsibleOhio initially came up short in its signature gathering, as only 42% of the more than 660,000 signatures the campaign initially collected were deemed valid. The campaign was then given 10 days at the end of July to collect over 29,000 more valid signatures. They ultimately gathered over 95,000 signatures during that time period, 44,185 of which have now been certified as valid by the secretary of state's office.

But a lot of local officials in Ohio are still trying to stop the initiative.

In June, about half of the Ohio House of Representatives co-sponsored a resolution specifically meant to undermine ResponsibleOhio that would ban any "constitutional amendment that would grant a monopoly, oligopoly or cartel." That resolution was soon passed by a majority in the House and the Senate and will therefore be present alongside ResponsibleOhio's initiative on the November ballot.

No one is quite sure what would happen if both that initiative and ResponsibleOhio's legalization initiative pass, but national marijuana activists and local politicians hope that it would create a basis for a court case that could delay implementing the proposal.

The secretary of state's office has also appointed a special investigator to look into ResponsibleOhio's initial collection of signatures for signs of fraud.

Most national marijuana activists are upset about how restrictive ResponsibleOhio would be.

Several national drug policy advocates and pot entrepreneurs have publicly expressed disgust or dismay at ResponsibleOhio's plan, which puts control of all marijuana farms and extraction facilities in the hands of a small group of wealthy investors.

Some feel obligated to support ResponsibleOhio because it would, at the very least, prevent people from going to jail for smoking or possessing marijuana. But others are concerned that the industry would remain beholden to a group of wealthy businesspeople who have never been involved with the cannabis industry before, including boy-bander-turned-reality-star Nick Lachey, NBA legend Oscar Robertson, and two descendants of President William Howard Taft.

Sri Kavuru is the president of a competing campaign called Ohioans to End Prohibition, which is trying to get a legalization initiative on the ballot in 2016 that would open cultivation licenses up to more people and look more like the constitutional amendment in Colorado.

Kavuru told BuzzFeed News that he was not surprised to hear ResponsibleOhio had gathered enough valid signatures.

"We do know that the opposition against them from all sides is very well-funded, so we're looking forward to the campaign," Kavuru said.