A young man and an older man

What a year it has been for marijuana policy in Ohio – so far. The stunning defeat of Issue 3 at the ballot box last year framed the citizen-led initiative landscapes for both 2015 and 2016. The infamous measure sponsored by Responsible Ohio would have accorded Ohio’s nascent cannabis industry to just ten wealthy investors. Some say RO lost because it was a monopoly. Others cited full legal. A few didn’t think it lost at all.

Rising out of RO’s ashes came Ohioans for Medical Marijuana (OMM). Sponsored by the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), this citizen-led initiative focused only on medical marijuana. It gained strength through winter and spring 2016, just as the Ohio General Assembly simultaneously gave birth to its own marijuana measure. HB 523, as the legislation was termed, beat OMM to the finish line (enactment), and in the process, the quest to change Ohio’s cannabis laws by the ballot came to a screeching halt. MPP took OMM’s ball and went home to Washington, DC. Party over, or so we thought.

Not so fast said one activist, Bill Schmitt Jr. of Bellaire, Ohio, who will tell anyone who listens that he has a plan. Having collected signatures for every single Ohio marijuana ballot measure since 2013, he doesn’t give up.

There’s a process called “home rule,” codified under an amendment to the Ohio constitution, that permits citizens in Ohio communities to change local laws by ballot initiative. In September 2015, this concept was applied by Toledo activists to the City of Toledo Marijuana Decriminalization “Sensible Marihuana Ordinance.” It passed handily with an enviable (especially to RO) 70-30 percent margin.

After passage, in theory anyway, licenses would no longer be revoked, assets would no longer be forfeited and driver’s licenses would no longer be suspended for minor marijuana arrests.The ordinance also reduced the penalties for possessing less than 200 grams to $0 with no jail time. But by the beginning of 2016, Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine had sliced and diced the ordinance, leaving only the possession penalties to stand. Still, this milestone gave Toledo the unique distinction of having the least and the lowest punishments for marijuana possession anywhere, period.  

Seeing the demise of MPP, and in the spotlight of Toledo’s success, Schmitt had an idea. Mix signature gathering expertise together with a home rule initiative. Add communities wrought with the heroin epidemic and friends sick with cancer and multiple sclerosis. The end product became five marijuana decriminalization ballot measures similar to Toledo’s that now face voters in the Ohio cities of Bellaire, Byesville, Logan, Newark and Roseville.

Like a troubadour, Schmitt roams from city to city to city to city, making sure everything is just right. More door hangers here, a public event there, a PAC report due on Tuesday. This jack of-all-ballot-measure trades makes a difference onecity at a time. He’s had a hand in all five “decrims,” three of which are managed through his Sensible Bellaire PAC, each one with the focus on his sick friends. He’ll tell you, he’s doing it for them.

Like so many ballot initiatives – obvious exception RO and its $20 million loss – these local measures operate on frayed and fragile shoe string budgets. It’s passion that feeds them when cupboards become bare. Their purveyors are quintessential grassroots activists like Bill Schmitt Jr.

Here are the five citizen-led marijuana decriminalization initiatives that are on an Ohio ballot  this very minute, along with their county and sponsor. Please send them some love in the form of badly needed campaign contributions or volunteers, and if you live in one of these towns, Vote for them.

            •           Bellaire in Belmont County, sponsored by the Sensible Bellaire PAC

            •           Byesville in Guernsey County, sponsored by the Sensible Byesville

            •           Logan in Hocking County, sponsored by Sensible Logan

            •           Newark in Licking County, sponsored by Sensible Newark and Central Ohio NORML

            •           Roseville in Muskingum County, sponsored by Sensible Bellaire PAC

As for Bill Schmitt, when asked what he was doing after the election, you might guess his reply. Find patients in need, craft a home rule initiative in their honor and free them to use their medicine unimpeded by fines, jail time, HB 523, an OMM exit or an RO loss.






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