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WYSO's coverage of the 2011 Election

Medical Marijuana Supporters Say Issue 3 Not Perfect, But Best Chance

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Backers of medical marijuana say Issue 3 is their best chance to gain access to the drug.

People who want medical marijuana in Ohio say they are ready to vote for Issue 3, even if they don’t particularly like all of the aspects of the plan.

For the past two decades, proponents of medical marijuana have lobbied state lawmakers to pass a plan to allow that. But it hasn’t happened. Nicole Scholten of Cincinnati said her 11-year-old daughter, Lucy, who suffers from severe epilepsy, cannot wait any longer. So she’s supporting Issue 3 - especially since Ohio lawmakers have put their priority into putting a plan on the ballot to defeat Issue 3 with an anti-monopoly provision known as Issue 2.

Scholten says she’s furious that lawmaker rushed Issue 2 forward instead of putting a medical marijuana plan up for a vote.

“I can‘t tell you what a slap in the face it felt like when those elected officials at our Statehouse rallied together very quickly to put Issue 2 on our ballot,” Scholten said. “Not to rally in support of strong, brave sick kids and their families but against smoking pot and other people profiting from it. So for those who say 'wait a year for a better plan,' I have to say today that I see no guarantee that any other measure is going to actually get another great idea on our ballot. I will not take that gamble.”

Mary Jane Borden of the Ohio Rights Group doesn’t want to take that gamble either. Her group has been collecting signatures to put a medical marijuana plan on next fall’s ballot and has collected about half of the signatures needed. But she fears if that anti-monopoly proposal Issue 2 passes, it would be harder for her group to put that measure on next year’s ballot. 

“There’s a medical marijuana program in Issue 3 and Issue 3 is on the ballot. And so this is our best shot to take care of these patients, to get them off the battlefield of the drug war,” Borden said. “Ohio Rights Group could do nothing else. We could do nothing else but support Issue 3.”

Opponents of Issue 3 have said it will create a monopoly because it will allow only ten official marijuana growing sites owned by investors who are backing this amendment. Television personality Montel Williams does not intend to be an investor in one of those sites, but he is urging passage of Issue 3. He suffers from multiple sclerosis and uses marijuana to ease his symptoms. Williams says it has worked for him after prescriptions medications caused him to lose much of his kidney function.

As he stood next to Lucy’s wheelchair, Williams broke down in tears, saying the fight over the so-called monopoly provision in Issue 3 is “asinine.” 

“What are we whining about? Are the people whining because they think they aren’t going to have access to make money? If that’s what the whole conversation is about, then let’s all stop for a second and get a grip,” Williams said. “This little girl right here doesn’t give a damn about anybody’s money. This Mom doesn’t care about money. She wants to hug her child, know that she’s not going to shake, know that she is going to have a little bit of dignity in her life, and who are we to deny that?”

But Curt Steiner, who is the head of the group, Ohioans against Marijuana Monopolies, says Issue 3 isn't a good plan for those who want pot for medicinal use.

“Unfortunately for those who support medical marijuana, their wagon is hitched to a bad train,” Steiner said.

He said Issue 3 is more than medical marijuana and says Ohioans have to take all of it into consideration.

“That is a long and convoluted constitutional amendment that includes empowering a small group of investors to control the marijuana market in Ohio,” Steiner said. “That dictates that there will be 1,160 stores that will sell recreational marijuana in the form that is loose as well as marijuana edibles including candy and cookies and so forth. And all of that is on the ballot as issue three so the voters look at that and they have to consider all of these things so it’s not easy for voters to separate all of the issues.”

And Steiner says supporters of medical marijuana should reject Issue 3 and come back and try to get voters to approve a law, not a constitutional amendment, in the future.  

"Their chances of success would be much, much greater. But Issue 2 would not affect in any way, shape or form the initiated statute," he said. "Issue 2 only affects constitutional amendments that would create a monopoly or preferential tax breaks.”

Steiner says he hopes medical marijuana backers are successful with legislation someday that is decided on its own merits. But backers of medical marijuana say they’ve already waited for two decades and that’s two decades too long.