Buzz Killers

Two groups want to legalize pot in Ohio. So why aren’t they talking to each other?

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As a first step toward getting on the ballot, each group must produce 1,000 signatures that can be validated by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine.

Unlike its counterpart, the Treatment group makes it easy for Neufer and anyone else wishing to collect signatures for the cause: Its petitions are available for download on the group's website. But this move also may have led to the failure of its first attempt to woo DeWine this summer. Of 2,143 signatures submitted, only 534 were deemed valid.

"It wasn't because the signatures were not from registered Ohio voters," Treatment spokesman Ryan Maitland told Scene at the time. The problem was that petitioners collecting signatures did not correctly record the number of signatures gathered on the petition sheets.

On August 9, Scene reported that the attorney general had rejected the Treatment Amendment drive and, in Scene-like fashion, made reference to "Cheetos-stained" petition pages. Maitland called the munchies humor inappropriate and did not return calls and e-mails for this story.

Neufer says Maitland also attempted to dissuade NORML from talking to Scene. Neufer, likewise, tried to convince Maitland to resume communication. Neither effort went over particularly well.

A week's worth of calls, e-mails, and Facebook messages to others affiliated with the Treatment Amendment — including high-profile medical marijuana activist Tonya Davis from Dayton and Ohio Patient Network President John Precup — were not returned. Just prior to press time, Maitland agreed via voicemail to talk to Scene.

Nonetheless, Neufer, who is also secretary of the medical-pot-friendly Ohio Patient Network, confirms the group was gathering signatures for its second petition attempt and says they could be submitted to DeWine's office as early as this week.

Meanwhile, the Cannabis camp is gathering signatures of its own, with hopes that using only trained petitioners will head off any snafus.

"We are professionals," says spokeswoman Theresa Daniello, her voice ever-so-slightly suggesting that a certain other group is not.

But she is mum on many points. "This is a business," Daniello says, noting that the group operates under the guidance of a very experienced local CEO and plans to appoint a doctor to its board. But she will not name them. "We are still putting the puzzle pieces together," she offers.

And that is evident in her changing position on NORML's involvement with the Cannabis Act. During an initial interview, Daniello said, "If we have any ties to NORML at all, they were very loose ties for a short time." These days, she says she welcomes NORML's endorsement.

Daniello admits she has many friends who back the opposing legislation, but "the majority of people working with our political action committee are new, and we have nothing to do with any of that, and we don't want anything to do with it."

As for funding, she insists there has been no money from Peter Lewis, though she does hold out hope for celebrity endorsements that may bring in the $10 to $15 million she estimates a successful campaign will need.

If neither group is vying for funding yet, what exactly is the cause of the conflict? "There's a lot of prestige involved in being the first to get something through," says Daniello.

So, to recap: The Treatment group is speaking to NORML but not to the Cannabis Act; it wasn't speaking to Scene but is now. NORML is speaking to the Treatment group and Scene, and wishes the Cannabis Act would speak to them. The Cannabis Act is speaking to Scene but not the Treatment group, and says it would like to speak to NORML but isn't. It's all very simple really.



Backers of both groups insist that they are against full legalization of marijuana. But observers see medical legalization here as an important stepping stone to pot eventually becoming legal as liquor. NORML, for example, operates nationally on three different platforms: full legalization, medical legalization, and legalization of industrial hemp production.

"We do what is best for the particular state, and in Ohio, medical legalization is best for the state," Neufer explains.

Also, every state that puts its own rules on the books sends a rallying cry to the feds to get out of the ganja game. Federal laws trump more lenient local ones, but as each state falls to pressure from pro-pot constituents, federal laws become more difficult and costly to enforce.

As evidence the strategy is working, proponents of legalization point to five separate bills currently bumping around congressional hallways; they would forbid the IRS from prosecuting taxpayers with medical marijuana income and allow lenders to finance medical marijuana businesses in other states. One would outlaw Uncle Sam from meddling in states' marijuana decisions altogether.

"There aren't going to be hearings on them any time soon, but they are important place holders — keeping the issues in front of voters," says Morgan Fox, spokesman for the Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project.

"It will be very difficult for the federal government to enforce its own marijuana laws if over half the states have deregulated it or if more than half the population supports deregulation," he says. Ohio could be state No. 17. "We think we will have half the population before we have half the states," adds Fox, who hails from Olmsted Falls and is a graduate of Case Western Reserve University.

To that end, it doesn't matter which initiative winds up before Ohio voters, says Fox. "But with the political climate in Ohio, it's more likely that the voters would approve the more restrictive measure."

The more restrictive Treatment Amendment mimics medical marijuana laws passed in other states and is similar to the bills that have failed to clear the Ohio legislature for the past eight years. Patients with a diagnosis from an approved list of ailments, a doctor's written recommendation, and who register with the Ohio Department of Health could possess 3.5 ounces of pot and grow 12 plants for personal use without worrying about the misdemeanor charge that now hangs over their heads. Registered cultivators could grow and dispense enough MJ for eight patients.

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