Proposed constitutional amendment to legalize pot in Ohio calls for 10 large indoor grow sites

The mayor of the northeast Ohio city of Lorain says he's never inhaled, but he's not opposed to a developer building a large indoor marijuana farm on undeveloped city-owned property.

Chase Ritenauer did not know why a company wanted to buy more than 100 acres from the Rust Belt city that has experienced tough economic times. When he learned the company wanted the property for a marijuana farm, he didn't blanch.

"If this gets legalized, why would you not want the city to benefit economically?" Ritenauer said, adding that the farm could produce as much as $2 million annually for his cash-strapped city of 64,000 people.

As Ritenauer noted, there is a rather large "if" attached to the idea of growing pot legally in Ohio. A group called ResponsibleOhio is pushing to get a constitutional amendment on the November ballot that would legalize the sale of marijuana for medicinal and recreational use. Backers of the amendment plan to spend millions to gather the necessary signatures to put it on the ballot and to campaign for passage.

The amendment calls for 10 growing sites in Ohio, including the one in Lorain. There are two other sites in northeast Ohio, four in southwest Ohio, two in central Ohio and one in northwest Ohio.

Recreational use of marijuana is legal in Colorado and Washington. Oregon and Alaska approved recreational use in November. Twenty-three states allow for medicinal marijuana use. Yet marijuana use of any kind remains illegal under federal law.

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and Secretary of State Jon Husted are adamantly opposed to legalizing pot in the state.

The proposed amendment says grow sites would initially be 100,000 square feet — or 2.3 acres — and could expand to 300,000 square feet within five years. It also calls for as many as 1,100 retail sites where anyone over the age of 21 can buy as much as 1 ounce. Grow sites would have to be 1,000 feet from schools, churches, day care centers and playgrounds.

A number of prominent investors and developers are supporting the legalization effort, including basketball great Oscar Robertson.

Moraine City Manager David Hicks is not impressed. When a businessman approached him about an option to pay $1.9 million to buy 50 acres of city-owned property in this Dayton suburb, Hicks was interested. He was told the product was not produced in Ohio but that it needed to remain confidential. There were promises of 130 decent-paying jobs to start and as many as 250 later.

But then Hicks learned from a local reporter that the site could be a marijuana farm. He said in an interview Thursday that he felt deceived.

"The merits of the product itself, that's neither here nor there," Hicks said. "But the devious manner in which they dealt with us is not something we're accustomed to."

ResponsibleOhio spokeswoman Lydia Bolander said it's not uncommon for companies to not divulge why they want a piece of property.

Legalization of marijuana would provide a substantial economic boost to the state, she said. Marijuana sales would be taxed, the drug would be regulated and would help diminish a thriving black market.

"It just makes sense," Bolander said. "Marijuana has been out and about in our community for a long time."