Should Ohio legalize recreational marijuana? Voters may decide in 2018.

6:35 p.m Monday, Dec. 11, 2017 Politics

Ohio voters could decide in 2018 to legalize marijuana for recreational use if supporters of a constitutional amendment are able to get the issue on the November ballot.

Cincinnati businessman Jimmy Gould and his business partner Ian James of Coumbus, the driving force behind the 2015 marijuana legalization issue that voters rejected by nearly a 2-to-1 margin, are behind a very different plan for 2018.

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Gould and James are crafting ballot language for a constitutional amendment that would create a free market system for adult consumption of marijuana.

Highlights of the plan:

* Ohioans age 21 and older would be allowed to grow and use marijuana in private;

* commercial growers and sellers would be regulated similar to businesses that produce and sell alcohol;

* using marijuana in public would be prohibited;

* employers would retain the right to have drug free workplace policies and landlords would be allowed to prohibit its production and use on their property;

* operating a vehicle under the influence of marijuana would be prohibited;

* local governments would control how many marijuana businesses operate in their community and voter approval would be required for dispensaries in their precincts.

To get on the November ballot, Gould and James need approval of their ballot issue from the attorney general and Ohio Ballot Board and then they’d have to collect 305,592 valid voter signatures by the July 4 deadline.

“Here is what I can assure you: this will be on the ballot. We will get the signatures and we will spend whatever is necessary to spend to get it on the ballot,” Gould said. “We will get the 305,000 signatures, no matter what it costs.

He noted that he and James are the only ones in Ohio to put a marijuana legalization question to the voters.

The two men failed to convince voters in 2015 that their “ResponsibleOhio” plan to grant 10 growing licenses to the investors bankrolling the multi-million dollar campaign was a good idea. But the issue did convince lawmakers that they’d rather adopt a highly regulated medical marijuana program — and write the rules — rather than risk it going to the ballot again.

Criticism of medical marijuana program

On Monday, Gould delivered a broadside of the Kasich administration over the state’s new medical marijuana program.

Gould and James less than two weeks ago learned their company had been passed over by the Ohio Department of Commerce for one of 12 coveted large-scale cultivator licenses for medical marijuana.

“If we lost in a fair and balanced process then we would accept that. That’s not what happened,” Gould said during an hour-long press conference in downtown Columbus.

Related: Springfield, Yellow Springs to get large scale marijuana operations

In June 2016, Gov. John Kasich signed a bill into law that authorizes marijuana use by patients with 21 conditions, including cancer or chronic pain, in the form of edibles, oils, patches and vaporizing. Patients and their caregivers will be allowed to possess up to a 90-day supply. Smoking or home growing it is barred.

Gould denies that the ballot proposal they are pushing for 2018 is sour grapes for not getting a medical marijuana license.

Still, Gould said that parallel to the ballot issue effort will be a full-scale legal challenge to the commerce department program. He called on Commerce Department Director Jacqueline Williams to step down and he pinned problems with the medical marijuana program on Kasich, who Gould described as an absentee governor.

“This thing has gotten to the point of the obnoxious, disgusting way governments get out of control when there is nobody at home watching the farm. No one,” he said.

Commerce Department spokeswoman Kerry Francis said she isn’t aware of any plans for Williams to resign.

Commerce officials have said they were unaware that Trevor Bozeman, whose company was hired to help score the applications, had been convicted of drug dealing in 2005. Bozeman could not be reached for comment. Applicants were required to undergo extensive background checks — a standard that Gould said should have also been applied to those scoring the proposals.

The 97 applicants who did not win one of the dozen licenses will be notified this week of the appeals process.

Related: Ohio announces first set of marijuana grower licenses

The Medical Marijuana Control Program is managed by the commerce department, pharmacy board and state medical board.

Regulators have been busy writing rules and guidelines for growers, processors, testing labs, dispensaries, patients and caregivers as well as reviewing and scoring applications for licenses. It is expected to be fully operational by September 2018.

Marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law.

Related: Marijuana campaign admits mistakes

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