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Our Friends In Oh May Be Getting Some Help


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COLUMBUS, Ohio -- The movement to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio has been reignited.

Peter B. Lewis -- the billionaire chairman of Progressive Corp. and well-known medical marijuana advocate -- is seeking proposals to run a campaign to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio. The issue would go on the ballot in 2012.

"We want to see what kind of proposals that come in and we'll proceed from there," said Graham Boyd, the former director of the ACLU Drug Law Reform Project and an adviser to Lewis.

While Democratic lawmakers have tried and failed in recent years to pass medical a marijuana law in Ohio, Lewis' latest inquiry represents a different tack.

By going directly to voters through a ballot initiative, Lewis and his supporters could circumvent a GOP-controlled legislature and a Republican governor who likely would oppose such a law.

"Obviously with his backing, and more importantly his dollars, that's the only way getting passage of this bill is going to happen in the state of Ohio," said Rep. Kenny Yuko, a Democrat from Richmond Heights who has introduced bills to legalize medical marijuana.

Lewis, whose company is based in Mayfield Village, is among the most wealthy, high-profile supporters of medical marijuana legalization. Allen St. Pierre, executive director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, estimates that Lewis has contributed between $40 million and $60 million to the cause since the 1980s.

"No person on the face of this Earth has donated more money to reform marijuana laws than Peter B. Lewis," St. Pierre said.


Tony Dejak,

AP file

Peter B. Lewis

The ballot initiative campaign Lewis is pursuing would include grassroots organizing, opinion research and advertising, according to a copy of his request for proposals. The campaign also would be designed to be a model for similar efforts in other states.

"Of the states that continue to prohibit medical use of marijuana, Ohio stands out as having particularly high levels of voter support," the request for proposals reads.

Indeed, an April 2009 Ohio Poll, conducted by the Institute for Policy Research at the University of Cincinnati, found that 73 percent of Ohio adults favored allowing medical marijuana.

And putting the issue on the fall 2012 ballot, when President Obama runs for re-election, would be an advantage.

"It's more of a Democratic issue than a Republican issue and I think the Democrats are going to come out in full force" in 2012, Yuko said. "It's going to be a good position for our medical marijuana supporters to be in."

Medical marijuana is legal for qualified patients in 15 states, according to Lewis' request for proposals.

Legislation introduced last month in Ohio would permit medical marijuana use to treat diseases such as cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and sickle cell anemia.

A spokesman for House Speaker William G. Batchelder, a Republican from Medina, said the bill is not a high priority.

Boyd, Lewis' advisor, would not say whether similar proposals were being sought in other states. He said the proposals for a campaign in Ohio were sent to people who realistically would submit responses, which are due by May 15.

St. Pierre, of NORML, said the outcome of a ballot initiative in Ohio could reverberate throughout the Midwest.

"It's definitely a bellwether state -- both politically and culturally," St. Pierre said. "Whatever passes in Ohio will probably serve as a pretty good benchmark for the rest of middle America."

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