Medical marijuana backers begin collecting petition signatures

Alison Ritchie

An amendment allowing the use of medical marijuana is one step closer to Ohio’s November 2012 ballot. The Ohio Ballot Board voted 5-0 to approve the amendment’s language during a meeting Friday.

Backers of the proposal can now begin collecting the 385,253 signatures needed to put the issue before voters. Matt McClellan, the spokesman for Ohio’s Secretary of State Jon Husted, said all the signatures must be valid, meaning they must be from registered voters in 44 of the state’s 88 counties. Supporters say that next step is a daunting task.

“It’s quite a bit of organizational effort that has to go behind it,” said Rob Ryan, the spokesman and former president of Ohio Patient Network, the group backing the amendment. “We don’t have millions of dollars to work with like the Casinos did.”

While similar medical marijuana proposals have been introduced into the Ohio Legislature and failed, Ryan argues that this one could stand a chance because voters, not lawmakers, would decide its fate.

“If there is enough organizational skill to collect the signatures, which is not an easy task, it will pass,” Ryan said. “There is no doubt in my mind.”

The Ohio Alternative Treatment Amendment would establish “safe access centers,” which would be controlled by local zoning boards to regulate the distribution. Cannabis caretakers would be registered through the state. Under the proposal, many medical conditions would qualify, including cancer, glaucoma, Parkinson’s and conditions that involve persistent pain and nausea. Sickle-cell anemia is also one of the primary conditions listed. Patients would have to be 18-years or older to get a prescription.

One of the major arguments opponents make against the use of medical marijuana is that patients would abuse the treatment or falsify conditions. Ryan said under the bill, a patient’s primary physician would need to validate the medical condition.

“It’s not just, ‘Oh, I have a headache,’” said Ryan. “You have to have a true condition.”

But the Ohio Alternative Treatment Amendment is not the only medical marijuana proposal under consideration in the state. Another group is lobbying for the Ohio Medical Care Act of 2012 and is trying to push it through the Legislature.

Kent State sophomore Gary Enos, who is president of Kent’s chapter of Students for a Sensible Drug Policy, said the idea of having one group pursue a ballot measure and one group pursue a legislative act works in their favor.

“Any effort that’s progressive with medical marijuana we’re going to support,” said Enos. “It’s great that we have two different angles going.”

Supporters of the Ohio Alternative Treatment Amendment have until July 2012 to collect the required petition signatures.