A group of local investors who failed in their bid to secure a state license to grow medical marijuana on Monday announced plans for a statewide ballot issue that would fully legalize marijuana.

Jimmy Gould, chairman of Cincinnati-based Green Light Acquisitions, has proposed an Ohio constitutional amendment that would allow anyone 21 or older to grow marijuana in their homes for personal use or commercial cultivation.

Gould said the ballot issue would not conflict with Ohio’s current medical marijuana law but would expand legalized marijuana use among qualified adults without a physician’s recommendation.

Needed: More than 300,000 signatures

Gould said he would need 305,592 signatures to place the issue before Ohio voters next year. His group plans to finalize the language in the proposal and begin circulating it next month. The initial filing deadline for the ballot proposal is July 4, 2018.

” I guess we’ll find out how much adult citizens want to be able to administer (cannabis) for themselves,” Gould said. “I think people want to have more control over their lives.”

 Gould is a longtime proponent of decriminalizing marijuana, which he said can be a useful tool for dealing with a variety of chronic conditions, including opioid addiction, which continues to plague Ohio.

He co-founded the group ResponsibleOhio, which was behind Ohio’s failed Issue 3 marijuana initiative in 2015 that would have legalized marijuana for both medical and recreational use.

The measure lost in all 88 Ohio counties, with nearly two-thirds of voters statewide voting “no.”

But the new proposal “is as different from Issue 3 as night and day,” Gould said. “We spent a lot of time and effort to get this right. This is not Issue 3 revisited.”

Dropped: Rules that doomed Issue 3

Gould said the new proposal tosses out many of the contentious items that he blames for Issue 3’s ultimate defeat, including designating certain properties as the only places in Ohio where the cannabis plant could be legally grown – a stipulation would have benefitted only a handful of mega-growers.

“The concept of the rich getting richer goes right out the window with this,” Gould said.

He said the new ballot proposal is a responsible way to fully legalize marijuana use, cultivation, possession, processing and dispensing, and regulate it like alcohol-related businesses in Ohio.

At least one critic charges the ballot proposal is simply an effort to use Ohio’s democratic process for personal gain.

“The initiative constitutional amendment proposed today is yet another ill-conceived ballot initiative with dishonest intentions,” said State Rep. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg), who has introduced a joint resolution to change the procedures for initiating statutes and constitutional amendments. “This is another proposal attempting to use the Ohio Constitution as a means for a special interest to make a profit at the expense of the taxpayers of Ohio.”

Gould counters that his latest proposal would benefit consumers and entrepreneurs alike in a fair and equitable free-market system.

And he’s confident now is the right time to introduce a new marijuana initiative, at least in part, because “a lot of time has gone by” since Issue 3 was defeated.

Has public opinion shifted enough?  

Shifting public opinion shows more Americans are inclined to support legalized marijuana now, a trend underscored by the sheer number of states that have adopted such laws over the past several years, Gould noted.

Since 2015, more than a dozen states, including Ohio, have adopted legalized marijuana laws for either medical or recreational use or both.

Chris Lindsey, an attorney for the national advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project, said voters in Ohio “just might” embrace the new ballot proposal, although next year might not be the optimal time to introduce the measure.

“Voters are increasingly supportive around the country, and I’m sure there will be a lot of interest in Ohio,” Lindsey said. “Younger voters tend to be very supportive of legalization, and for that reason, some might suggest the presidential election in 2020 as the best time” to introduce the new ballot proposal.

“But Alaska and Oregon certainly didn’t wait,” he added. “They won at the polls and now have good programs.”

Both Alaska and Oregon passed legislation allowing adults to possess and grow marijuana in their homes in 2015 – a non-presidential election year.

Gould: I’ll spend “whatever it takes” 

Gould and his investors in ResponsibleOhio spent more than $20 million to get Issue 3 on the ballot in Ohio. And Gould said he would spend “whatever it takes” through donations, fundraising and direct investment to get his new proposal on the ballot.

Gould said his new ballot initiative would “run parallel” to a lawsuit he plans to file against the state after his firm, CannAscend Ohio, and dozens of other applicants were denied “Level 1” licenses for large-scale medical marijuana growers.

The Ohio Department of Commerce earlier this month awarded 12 preliminary Level 1 licenses based on what Gould alleges was a deeply flawed selection process.

Hurting the credibility of the process is that fact that at least one of the application graders, Trevor C. Bozeman, was a convicted drug dealer. Bozeman pled guilty in 2005 to possession with intent to manufacture or distribute a controlled substance in Pennsylvania and was sentenced to three years of probation.

“That stuff is just not OK,’’ Gould said. “Commerce feel asleep at the wheel. They either didn’t know, or they didn’t do background checks” on the application graders.

“This is incompetence at best, and borders on criminal at the worst,” he added.

Proposed amendment: The basics: 

* The “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Amendment” would provide for the legal cultivation, possession, processing, dispensing, use and consumption of marijuana by anyone persons 21 years of age or older.

* The amendment would control the commercial production and distribution of marijuana under a system that licenses, and regulates the businesses involved; while also providing the lawful cultivation, sale, and processing of industrial hemp.

*  The amendment would provide for the commercial cultivation, processing, and dispensing of marijuana by persons 21 or older: “If you can own a bar, or make beer, wine or spirits, you will be able to own a marijuana dispensary, processor or cultivation.”

The amendment would control the commercial production and distribution of marijuana under a system that licenses, and regulates businesses involved. 

* Cities, villages and townships could approve the number of commercial marijuana businesses that may be permitted to operate in their community, and local voters would be allowed to decide if dispensaries can open in their precinct.

* No public consumption would be allowed. Smoking marijuana or marijuana products would be prohibited in any public place, in any place where smoking is prohibited, or on (or in) any form of public transportation.

* Commercial marijuana facilities could be no closer than 500 feet from a school, church day-care center or playground.

* Ohio farmers would be permitted to cultivate hemp and compete with farmers in neighboring states. 

* People 21 and older would be allowed to grow marijuana in secure, private locations inaccessible by anyone under 21.