March 20, 2014

Pro-Pot Activists Try To Flip Bellwether State

By: Ken Silva

Marijuana Leaf High

Pro-cannabis activists in Ohio hope to legalize marijuana for medical and industrial use, an effort that proponents say has national implications because of the state’s importance in presidential elections.

Ohio has voted for the president-elect in every election since 1888. “If both Ohio and Florida turn this November, no candidate for president in 2016 will be able to win the White House without vowing to end prohibition,” John Pardee, president of the Ohio Rights Group, an organization working to legalize industrial and medical cannabis, told Doublethink. “Citizens all over the country will finally be freed from the shackles of this failed and flawed program. And if the U.S. is no longer fighting a war on cannabis and pressuring other countries to do the same, the whole world will no longer have to suffer under these draconian laws.”

Pardee explained that they have a lot to do in a short time just to place the Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment on the November 2014 ballot. While a study released last month by the Quinnipiac University Polling Institute shows that an astounding 87-percent of Ohioans are in favor of legalizing pot for medical use – and 51 percent for personal use – that hasn’t translated itself in signatures for the legalization referendum.

Pardee said about 50,000 people have lent their signatures to the effort, leaving 335,000 needed by July 2. Moreover, signatures from at least five percent of the electorate are needed in 44 of the state’s 88 counties. So far, only four counties have met that threshold.

Pardee blames the lack of signatures on a lack of funding. Last fall, he was looking to raise about $1.4 million to hire a professional signature-collection agency that would have made the task much easier. But when it became clear his group wasn’t going to meet that goal, he turned to an alternative strategy of paying individuals to put boots to the ground.

ORG has about 2,300 volunteers. Some of them are paid, but not nearly enough to cover the state.

Pardee has been lobbying for financial support from national organizations such as Americans for Safe Access, the Drug Policy Alliance, and the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, but has had little success. He said he doesn’t know why that is.

“We’re sitting on the edge of history,” he said. “We built the car, now we just need the fuel.”

ORG’s infrastructure (Pardee’s metaphorical car) includes support from the Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, the United Food and Commercial Workers, the Ohio Libertarian Party, and, yes, an endorsement from Willie Nelson. Pardee also said that Ohio Farmers Union officials claim they will endorse the amendment if and when it is on the ballot, though that doesn’t do his group a whole lot of good right now.

ORG is applying full-court pressure on Ed Fitzgerald, the likely Democratic nominee for governor, to come out in favor of medical cannabis. Pardee said Fitzgerald claims to be “studying the situation” and will make a statement on his position soon.

Meanwhile, the ORG president keeps battling on, travelling around the state to drum up support and debate those who disagree, such as Lorain County Alcohol and Drug Addiction Services president Thomas Stuber and other prohibition warriors.

“The debates have been absolute slaughters,” he said. “Hopefully, politicians around the state will see how easy it is to make these simple talking points, and jump on board with us.”

One of those few politicians on board is Democratic State Rep. Robert Hagan, who is trying to introduce a bill that would make medical marijuana available to epileptic children. But Hagan has attempted to introduce medical-marijuana-related bills to the Republican-controlled state legislature five times. The bill has never made it to the floor – making the referendum “the only game in town,” said Pardee.

Pardee has a personal investment in the campaign, saying that medical marijuana saved his son, Jason’s, life – but it also essentially banned him from his home state. He said Jason had to undergo reconstructive pelvic surgery after a car crash. Post-operation recovery required him to take a plethora of pain pills, which made Pardee worry about his son’s health.

He began researching alternative treatments when he came across medical cannabis research, and saw the success stories without the side effects of pain pills. With his father’s blessing and support, Jason moved to California to use pot for his pain.

Jason is now healthy enough to skate and surfboard now, which Pardee attributes to what he calls the “miracle drug.”

“The only negative is that (my wife and I) love our son very much and would love for him to live in Ohio,” he said. “But he’d be a criminal here.”

While the Quinnipiac University poll seems to show that Ohioans have accepted the empirical evidence in favor of legalizing medical cannabis, ORG is using anecdotes such as Jason’s and others to convince Ohioans that cannabis can help sick children.

One of those stories is Paige’s Story, a two-minute video chronicling the story of a young girl with a rare form of epilepsy. Even though epileptic children have experienced a reduction in seizures in every state where medical cannabis is legal, that doesn’t matter to Paige’s parents because they are unable to move.

Pardee hopes that Paige’s Story will go viral and raise the awareness and support so desperately needed within the next few weeks.

He doesn’t have a wait-until-next-year attitude, because for many people in desperate need of treatment, next year will be too late. Such was the case for Charlee Nelson, an epileptic Utah girl who died just days after the state’s lawmakers legalized the importation of cannabis oil to treat seizures, according to The Salt Lake Tribune.

Pardee may be on to something with his theory that the swing state can turn the nation towards pot legalization. Decades of lobbying and pleading on the national level haven’t even gotten the feds to stop cracking down on marijuana dispensaries in states where they’re legal, or to remove the plant from the list of Schedule 1 substances – the list of the more dangerous drugs in the world, according to the Drug Enforcement Agency.

Even if he’s correct, though, that doesn’t mean it will be an issue in 2016. “If we can get this done in Ohio, prohibition is finished – stick a fork in it,” Pardee said. “It’s now or never.”

Follow Ken Silva on Twitter. Image courtesy of Big Stock Photo.