Group wants to legalize recreational pot in Ohio, erase criminal records

Entrepreneur and political activist Ian James and his business partners have big plans for marijuana across Ohio including two ballot issues that could come before voters — one to legalize recreational marijuana and one to erase marijuana convictions from criminal records.

James was a primary driver behind Responsible Ohio, the group that pushed the November 2015 statewide ballot issue to legalize marijuana for medical and recreational use. After spending more than $21-million on that issue, voters rejected it 64-36 percent.

James, founder of Green Light Acquisitions, LLC, is now planning two ballot issues:

— A citizen initiated statute that would allow for expungement of marijuana convictions or other infractions that are no longer illegal. James and others turned in signatures in 2015 to ask lawmakers to adopt the Fresh Start Act but later withdrew the petition. Organizers would have to collect new signatures and resubmit to the Ohio General Assembly for consideration.

Related: Effort underway to expunge marijuana convictions for Ohioans

— A proposed constitutional amendment that calls for allowing Ohioans 21 and older to grow and use marijuana in private, regulate commercial growers and sellers similarly to alcohol businesses, ban marijuana use in public and give employers the right to retain drug free workplace policies. It would likely appear on the 2020 ballot.

Related: Ohio voters may be asked again to legalize recreational pot

“It is inevitable that marijuana is going to be legalized in this country,” James said Tuesday.

Ohio Families for Change — another pro legalization ballot group not associated with James — got the go-ahead in May to begin circulating petitions for a marijuana proposal for the November 2019 ballot.

James criticized that proposal, saying the wording contains a fatal flaw that would open the floodgates to drug dealers.

Related: What we know about effort to put marijuana back on the ballot

He said he is also working with Ohio lawmakers to pass legislation legalizing the cultivation of hemp.

The Ohio Farm Bureau does not yet have a position on hemp legalization but will begin discussions with farmers and experts this summer, spokesman Joe Cornely said. “Right now we’re starting to think about it and we want to know more.”

Related: High times for hemp

James and his investors are raising $130-million for a portfolio of marijuana-related business ventures, including offering insurance policies to marijuana businesses, cultivating hemp on 8,500 acres outside Ohio and pitching skin care products — soaps, lotions, sprays using cannabidiol — to national retailers.

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