Q&A with Rob Kampia of MPP

Questions and Answers About Ohio with MPP's Rob Kampia
February 15, 2016


What's the goal of the initiative campaign in Ohio?

The goal is to pass a constitutional amendment that legalizes medical marijuana on November 8, with patients being able to purchase medical marijuana from retail establishments approximately one year later.  Compared to other states, this will be quite fast.  Patients need to be protected from arrest ASAP, and patients should obtain access to medical marijuana ASAP.  We view Ohio's prohibition on medical marijuana as a public-health emergency.

What do you say to people who support legalizing medical marijuana but object to amending the state Constitution to accomplish this?

Because the initiative will grant new rights to patients to access medical marijuana as a treatment option, the Ohio Constitution is the place this must be done.

How will the campaign be structured?

MPP's national headquarters brings the expertise for passing medical-marijuana laws, but we won't be running the campaign from Washington, D.C.  Rather, we'll be working hand-in-hand with consultants in Ohio who know the political landscape and the power players, and we're hiring three Ohio people to work overtime on harnessing the enormous grassroots energy in Ohio.  These three people are Michael Revercomb, Lissa Satori, and John Pardee, and their first day on the job will be February 16.  Their first order of business is to plan the statewide signature drive, in consultation with various key activists in Ohio.

Will these three people be the spokespersons for the campaign?

While it's possible that all three will be quoted in the news at some point, they won't be the campaign's spokespersons.  The actual spokespersons will be a handful of volunteer physicians and a handful of volunteer patients, and the point person for reporters to call has yet to be identified; presumably, this full-time PR person will be on the staff of whatever political consulting firm we end up retaining in Ohio.  But, for now, the point person for reporters is MPP's Mason Tvert, who's based in Denver.

Because many people are still feeling bad about the Responsible Ohio campaign last year, what do you say to activists who want to be involved with the new campaign but perhaps didn't work well with Michael, Lissa, or John last year?

Not everyone needs to get along with everyone; rather, you just need to get along with someone.  But if you're the kind of person who doesn't want to work with Michael, Lissa, John, or literally anyone at MPP, then I guess you won't be working on this campaign.  No hard feelings.

How do you view the infighting that has plagued Ohio for years?

I've been working on the marijuana issue for 26 years, and it's pretty clear that Ohio has had the highest per-capita level of infighting of any state in the nation.  That said, everyone we've spoken with in Ohio shares the same view of what can be reasonably accomplished this calendar year, which is legalizing medical marijuana at the ballot box.  This campaign will be simple -- and even fun -- if we all keep our eyes on the prize.

What do you make of the state Senate's "listening tour" and the state House's task force?

We acknowledge that there are some state legislators who truly care about medical-marijuana patients, but the hearings are too little, too late.  The state legislature has had decades to legalize medical marijuana, so it's time for the people to take matters into their own hands by passing a ballot initiative.

What do you envision for the signature drive?

The signature drive will start on approximately April 2, and it must end on approximately July 6.  As we all know, the campaign must collect at least 305,591 valid signatures statewide, including a minimum number of signatures in 44 of the 88 counties.  Adding all this together, we should assume that we must collect 600,000 gross signatures statewide.

Is three months enough time to execute the signature drive?

Yes, if there's a muscular volunteer effort to collect 200,000 of the 600,000 gross signatures.  With 95 days on the streets, this means that volunteers would need to collect approximately 2,000 gross signatures per day statewide.  As for the other 400,000 gross signatures that are needed, MPP will raise the money that's needed to pay a professional firm to collect the 400,000 signatures and validate all 600,000 signatures.  If at least 500 volunteers are willing to collect signatures across the state this spring, we can all win on November 8; alternatively, without significant volunteer buy-in, the signature drive would fail.  So I have a question for you:  Will 500 volunteers be willing to stand on sidewalks during the nice-weather months?

It's easy to imagine a lot of volunteer energy if the right initiative is proposed.  While drafting the initiative, are you consulting with people in Ohio who have been working on this issue for years?

Yep, we're consulting with a selection of in-state activists, in-state attorneys who understand Ohio law, out-of-state attorneys who are experts in marijuana law, and major donors who will need to fund the bulk of this campaign.  One of MPP's staff attorneys is quarterbacking the drafting process; she's one of the two attorneys in the nation who has the most experience with drafting marijuana-related ballot measures.  Understandably, we cannot do an "open source" drafting process, because that would obviously lead to Ohio news outlets publishing rough drafts of the initiative, which wouldn't be fair to anyone involved.

What will the initiative say?

The initiative is still being drafted, so some details are still being worked out, but the initiative will be based on the medical-marijuana laws that already exist in 23 states and the District of Columbia.  Specifically, the Ohio initiative will (1) enumerate a list of qualifying medical conditions, including chronic pain and PTSD; (2) permit patients and caregivers to possess and grow personal-use amounts of medical marijuana; (3) require the state government to issue five kinds of licenses to businesses to grow, process, test, distribute, and sell medical marijuana; (4) impose the standard sales tax that's imposed on paper towels or juice at the retail level, with no excise taxes or special sales taxes; and (5) give directives to the executive branch to administer the new medical-marijuana program.

Will there be big impediments that prevent "mom and pop" from starting a medical-marijuana business?

No.  The cost of starting the five kinds of medical-marijuana businesses will be similar to starting up any kind of business, such as a convenience store or a pharmacy.  To be sure, most new business owners would need to obtain startup capital through a loan or other means, but the deck won't be stacked against anyone.

Could there be a revolt among the Ohio electorate if they feel that they don't want tax money to be used to pay for the government's administration of the medical-marijuana program?

There won't be a taxpayer revolt, because tax money won't be used to pay for this program.  The application fees for the five kinds of business licenses -- as well as small fees for patient and caregiver ID cards -- will pay for the administration of the program.

Will patients or their caregivers get hit with big application fees in order to obtain their medical-marijuana ID cards?

No.  The application fee for patients and caregivers will be smaller than the fees in other medical-marijuana states.

Will the initiative protect the privacy of patients and caregivers?

Yes.  As with all of the medical-marijuana laws that MPP has drafted in other states, the Ohio initiative will forbid the state government from publicizing the names and contact information of the patients and caregivers who will receive protection from arrest.

How much can patients expect to pay when purchasing medical marijuana at retail outlets?

There are no state laws that fix the price of wholesale or retail medical marijuana, and we're not going to start by enshrining prices in the Ohio Constitution.  That said, the retail price in Ohio will inevitably be slightly lower than in other states, because the Ohio initiative won't impose large taxes or bureaucratic hurdles that would translate into higher prices.  Also, the Ohio initiative will embrace a healthy, free-market approach to the production of medical marijuana, which will drive down the cost as compared to, say, an oligopoly or a government-run monopoly.

So will the application fees for the five kinds of businesses be large, thereby boxing out the little guys?

No.  The application fees for all five kinds of business licenses will be modest -- which means thousands of dollars per license -- but this will be a small fraction of the overall cost of starting the businesses.  But in order to keep the application fee reasonable for all five kinds of business licenses, we intend to impose a large application fee for the larger of two kinds of cultivation licenses.  In sum, there will probably be six business licenses total -- five regularly priced licenses for all five sectors, plus a sixth expensive license that would apply to part of the cultivation sector.

Will the number of cultivation licenses be limited, like Responsible Ohio tried to do?

No.  There will be some kind of limit on the expensive cultivation licenses, but there won't be a limit on the other wholesale cultivation licenses.

I'm under the impression that other state governments take a really long time before patients are able to access their medicine.  Can we expect the same kind of delay in Ohio?

No.  The beauty of having two kinds of grows is that a smaller number of people will apply for the big/expensive grows, so we'll set a deadline for the Ohio government to deal with that smaller number of applications first, which the government can do quickly.  Once those seeds are planted in the ground, the executive branch will be charged with issuing a larger number of the other business licenses.  (In Maryland, more than 850 business applications hit the government regulator's desk at the same, thereby stalling the entire medical-marijuana program.  To avoid this problem in Ohio, the initiative will specify two different application deadlines, both of which will be in the second half of 2017.)

In the interest of giving patients access to medical marijuana ASAP, will patients and their caregivers be permitted to grow their own medical marijuana before retail establishments begin selling medical marijuana?

Yes.  Patients and their caregivers will be able to grow their own medical marijuana as soon as they obtain their ID cards from the state government, whether or not any medical-marijuana businesses ever open in Ohio.  (Furthermore, there will be a hammer in the initiative to require the state government to issue the ID cards to legitimate patients and caregivers.)

For those of us who have been working on the medical-marijuana issue for years, is there anything we should be worried about with this new campaign?

Yes.  There won't be a campaign unless hundreds of people volunteer to collect signatures in April, May, and June.  I'd like to respectfully request that anyone who's healthy enough to sit or stand outside would ideally commit to collecting between 100 and 1,000 signatures over the course of 95 days.  If 500 people collect an average of 400 gross signatures each -- for a grand total of 200,000 gross signatures -- the initiative will be placed on the November 8 ballot.

Will the campaign offer any assistance to the volunteers who are collecting signatures?

Yes.  The campaign will pay for the printing of all petitions, as well as paying for admission fees to festivals and fairs where a large number of signatures can be collected in just a few hours.  The campaign will also maintain a Web site that shows the progress of the overall volunteer effort, while giving special credit to volunteers who collect huge numbers of signatures.  In addition, the campaign is paying the wages of three people who will work overtime to coordinate this volunteer juggernaut.

How can people help pass this initiative 38 weeks from now?

In just a couple weeks -- well before the start of the signature drive on approximately April 2 -- the campaign will launch a Web site that makes it easy for people to volunteer to collect signatures.  Volunteers will be able to specify the county or counties where they intend to collect signatures, and the Web site will provide opportunities to help in other ways.  For people who are too ill to collect signatures, there will be formal volunteer positions to promote the initiative on Facebook, Twitter, and the Web generally.  And, of course, we'll ask everyone to ask their health-care providers, clergypersons, and local policymakers to endorse the initiative.  This campaign needs to be a team effort, and we're hoping that Ohio can surprise the nation by showing that people can, in fact, work together successfully to promote a common cause.