Activism is hard. Plain and simple. Being an activist is even harder. It’s long hours, empty bank accounts, angry girlfriends/boyfriends/spouses who are ready to leave you at any moment, family that doesn’t get it, making calls, receiving calls, logging contacts, selling a vision, rejection, empty promises, fulfilled promises, emails, press releases, signatures, counts, validation, databases, vendors, merchandise, rallies, public speaking, volunteers, supporters, haters, naysayers, politics, more politics, and people wishing you would just stop. Especially your doctor.
This is one of those decisions that was very difficult to make. It all goes back to the story of OTEP (Ohioans to End Prohibition). OTEP was founded in a living room in Cleveland Heights, while I was on vacation from California. Jacob Wagner had just passed the Bar and the Ohio Rights Group wasn’t going to be on the 2014 ballot and I said to Jacob “Why don’t we write an initiative and work on getting it towards the ballot?”
During this time, I had the unique perspective of working for the ArcView Group, which allowed me to learn the pain and pitfalls of various regulatory regimes, learn the difficulty of the application process for business licenses and fundraising process that businesses in the cannabis space have to go through. Also learning from people who had done these campaigns before, and why other state laws were written the way they were, which concepts were important and why, and what matters to entrepreneurs while balancing the values of social justice that have driven this movement forward for decades. We did our best to encompass all of this into one amendment, the Cannabis Control Amendment.
The paperwork for OTEP was filed with the Secretary of State in September 2014, and Jacob, myself, and a few others were working when we could on conceptualizing what would eventually become the Cannabis Control Amendment. Then in late November, I heard the news about something called Responsible Ohio. “No way. This can’t be real.” I thought.
December 12th, 2014 I got a call from Jacob Wagner. He had just met with an RO investor and found out a lot more information. I’ll never forget that conversation. It changed my whole life.
“Sri, this is happening. If we’re going to announce something and fight this thing, we have to move right now. like NOW. We can’t wait until the end of the year anymore. These guys are going to win if someone doesn’t do something about it.”
14 days later, I had sold my car and liquidated whatever assets I could, planned a 24 month budget for myself, and was on a flight back to Ohio. We had to finish the law under fire, build an organization, start collecting signatures, and beat Issue 3. It was a lot less clear 12 months ago, that Responsible Ohio was doomed. Everyone thought I was crazy, and that stopping it was impossible.
We were going to have to do this campaign with minimal, MINIMAL, resources. Who the hell is going to give us money in the middle of this campaign? If Issue 3 loses, that could change. But the first step was to beat Issue 3. We were wildly successful in that mission.
There were times that I felt all alone, especially the early days. Then people started jumping on board, helping us, sacrificing along with us. The love I have for everyone can’t even be measured. I’ve made friends, brothers and sisters for life during this campaign.
The Issue 3 campaign was complicated, and ugly. Lots of strange bedfellows working together. 110 organizations with varying opinions on cannabis reform working in unison to take down something that we all disagreed with, and simultaneously passing Issue 2, preventing any such attempts through our constitution again. Our entire effort was run off laptops and cell phones from a kitchen table at our house.
While Issue 2 was forming, during which time I provided testimony in favor of the “Anti-Monopoly Amendment,” I also heard serious talk among very conservative legislatures about doing something about Medical Marijuana and passing something in 2016. Whether its the right thing to do, or the politically smart thing to do, it needs to be done. I was pleasantly surprised that they are moving forward.
I was a bit shocked and somewhat irritated that nobody involved in social justice or criminal justice reform was a part of the Task Force, and aside from Rep. Dan Ramos, not one person of color. This needs to change, and I will be working on providing the best advice I can to the task force, and its members.
The fact that the legislature is making a move on medical marijuana fundamentally alters the landscape of the politics of marijuana reform. Including all the various aspects of a ballot initiative, whether medical or full legal. The legislature should think about this not just about compassion and helping the sick, but realizing that possession and cultivation of cannabis is still a crime.
Successfully doing a ballot initiative in Ohio is hard. hard. work. It requires a very solid organization, smart digital strategy, logistical planning, good polling, near-perfect language, 60,000 hours of petitioning paid for. All that said, with enough financial backing, you still have a 27% chance of winning historically. Ballot initiatives fail 3 out of 4 times. Sure, it takes money, and fundraising, without offering something in return, is really fucking hard.
These things work out in predictable ways. Marijuana campaigns don’t get attacked on nuances of policy, the attacks against reform is done in broad strokes. The general voting public isn’t particularly more or less engaged with marijuana than other topics. Also, most of the general public doesn’t consume or particularly care! They usually don’t believe you belong in jail, and users in Ohio don’t go to jail. I have yet to see evidence to the contrary.
After a year of this, I can say that I’m tired. This stuff consumes you in ways that I can’t even begin to describe. My life revolves around cannabis, reform, legalization. Even googling my name comes up with results about the past campaign. Every conversation, every phone call, every time I bump into someone it’s always the same thing people want to talk about; Usually, “How do I start a business? Can you give me tons of free consulting advice?” not often enough “How can I help fund the 60,000 hours of petitioning this will take?”
I have been thinking about cannabis reform in Ohio for years. I have to look at reform from multiple angles, OTEP has grown into something bigger than I ever imagined. We’re the biggest marijuana reform organization in Ohio. OTEP’s leadership are some of the most talented individuals I have ever had the honor of working with. OTEP’s advisors are the best of the best, and I can confidently say that the future of the organization and the campaign is in great hands.
My dedication to OTEP over this past year, is the rent I have paid for living on this planet. Fighting Issue 3 was my dharma, my calling, my cause. The contributions I made, we all made, will be recorded in history forever. That is something I will always be proud of.
What people often forget, is that I’m a volunteer too. The last campaign took years off of my life, and several others. For at least the past year I’ve neglected myself, my personal life, and all the rest of the things I should be focusing on at this age. The ripe old age of 32. I have high hopes for everyone and the future of reform here in Ohio, and my promise to the patients of Ohio that something will happen this year will be fulfilled in one way or another.
I’m not sure what I’m going to do next. That seems to be something everyone wants to know. The fact I couldn’t answer that in a concrete way has a lot to do with my decision.
Be Well, Be Free. Stay hungry