By Kim Palmer
CLEVELAND (Reuters) - Proponents announced plans on Tuesday for an Ohio ballot initiative that would legalize medical marijuana one year after a push for recreational versions of the drug was shot down by the state’s voters.
The proposed state constitutional amendment, which would appear on the Nov. 8 ballot if a national advocacy group collects enough signatures, would allow patients with debilitating medical conditions to use marijuana with a doctor's permission, said Rob Kampia, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project.
If approved by the voters, it would make Ohio the 24th state to legalize marijuana for medical use. Four states have gone further, legalizing through referendums the recreational use of marijuana.
Last November, 64 percent of Ohio voters rejected a measure that would have legalized recreational marijuana. Critics said the measure would create a monopoly, and argued that the legislation's main backers were those who would have been awarded licenses to grow legal marijuana.
Opponents of marijuana legalization have said its ill effects include short-term memory loss and a path to more frequent drug and alcohol use.
Ohio, considered a bellwether of political sentiment because the presidential candidate who wins that state often captures the election, would have been the first Midwest state to legalize recreational marijuana.
Florida, Missouri and Arkansas are in the process of preparing legislation for legalized medical marijuana to be voted on in November, Kampia said.
Kampia expects the Ohio ballot initiative for medical marijuana would pass with 60 percent approval and predicted nearly 215,000 Ohioans would then apply for a license to legally buy and use medical marijuana.
If approved, the legislation would require Ohio to issue medical marijuana licenses no later than July 1, 2017, and the first retail dispensary could open as soon as spring 2018, he said.
The ballot language will be submitted to Ohio's attorney general this week along with the 1,000 signatures required for it to be considered, Kampia said.
For the measure to appear on the ballot, supporters must collect 305,000 valid signatures in half of the state's 88 counties. Kampia said the effort would begin this month and he expects to meet the requirements by July.
(Editing by Ben Klayman and Matthew Lewis)