The Ohio Rights Group (ORG) made remarkable strides in 2014 toward legalization of the medical, therapeutic and industrial uses of the cannabis plant in Ohio. In less than two years, the group has become the premier cannabis-focused advocacy organization in the state. The ORG has accomplished the following in 2014:
Powered by People. Utilizing NationBuilder – the same digital organizing technology utilized by President Obama, Mitt Romney and Scotland – the ORG has activated a county- and region based support network that is praised by politicos. Over 8,000 supporters have been segued into their respective counties and regions for grassroots organizing that operates under the leadership of “County Captains” and Regional Managers. The ORG has a similar structure in place on the campuses of Ohio colleges or universities.
Strength in Numbers. Since its inception in early 2013, the ORG has attracted almost 3,500 volunteers via NationBuilder. If the $22.55 per hour average value of volunteer time were applied to them, even if each gave only 1 hour every other week (über volunteers work 24/7), the ORG’s “goodwill” – the ORG’s value in excess of its assets – would rise to $2 million.
A Social ORG – Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Integrated into NationBuilder, ORG social media has enjoyed impressive growth. Likes on the main ORG Facebook page equal over 14,000, which exceed that for almost any other state-based, cannabis-focused organization nationwide. The reach of individual posts regularly exceeds 10,000. These numbers exclude several dozen affiliated Facebook pages for ORG volunteers, staff and affiliated counties and regions. Twitter and Instagram have thousands of followers.
Near Perfect Polling. Amazing results were reported in a February Quinnipiac University survey of registered Ohio voters that found a whopping 87% in support of the medical use of marijuana, with support of 78% or higher in every group measured. Only 11% opposed. With the 2% undecided matching the margin of error, most Ohioans have made up their minds – favorably.
Petition Progress! The goal of the ORG’s flagship project, the Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment (OCRA), is placement of this citizen initiated constitutional amendment on the Ohio ballot by collecting more than 305,591 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters. As of November 2014, approximately one third of this goal has been met: ~150,000+ signatures have been collected; ~17,000 petitions have been purchased; ~10,000 petitions are in statewide circulation; ~4,000 completed petitions have been returned to headquarters; ~500 circulators have fielded petitions; 30 counties of 44 required counties have met their 5% minimum; and ~200,000 potential signatures remain in circulation. The ORG’s all-volunteer army has achieved the remarkable feat of being the first all-volunteer effort in Ohio to collect an estimated 150,000 signatures for a statewide ballot initiative.
More Media. The ORG has been widely featured in television, radio and print media, from NBC WTOV 9 in Steubenville, to Fox WXIX 19 in Cincinnati, to CBS WKBN 27 in Youngstown, to ABC WTVG 13 in Toledo and to CBS WBNS 10 in Columbus where the group was named “Newsmaker of the Week” in May. ORG representatives were featured on WOSU’s “All Sides with Ann Fisher” in January and on WTAM’s “Mike Trivisonno Show” in June. Notable print media included a cover story for the Lorain Chronicle and a multiple page, in depth exposé Columbus’ 614 Magazine. All told, the ORG has accrued millions of dollars of earned media in just two years.
You Decide Ohio. The ORG launched this project in September to ensure that the positions on cannabis held by candidates for state and federal offices are clear. By circulating clever memes through social media and detailing these positions through releases, ads and video, the divergent attitudes of these candidates are positioned against one another ensure voters know who works in their interest.
Lobbying for Legislation. In July 2014, the ORG engaged a professional lobbyist to advance medical marijuana legislation in the Ohio legislature. The lobbyist sought out potential sponsors for this legislation and advocated for the medical conditions to be covered under it.
In Business for Business. In January 2014, Apeks Supercritical in Johnstown hosted the Ohio Rights Group for a tour of its facilities. The company designs, builds, tests, and refines subcritical and supercritical CO2 extraction systems that make cannabis oil concentrates for medicinal use. The demand for these products has soared in the states where therapeutic cannabis is now legal. These expanding markets mean that companies like Apeks can expand and bring new jobs to communities like Johnstown.
Pioneers of the Children’s Movement. When Dr. Sanjay Gupta aired his first “Weeds” special on CNN in September 2013, a new movement was born. This program and its follow-up in March featured children who have experienced remarkable recoveries from conditions like intractable epilepsy as a result of a CBD-rich strain of medical marijuana. Some Ohioans made a difficult choice and moved to Colorado to see it could similarly help their gravely ill children. Others came to the ORG and led several Ohio counties where they staged events and collected thousands of signatures for the Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment.
Ride with Larry. This poignant documentary follows Larry Smith, who has been diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, as rides his bicycle across his home state of South Dakota. What gives this retired police captain, successful bakery owner and bicycling enthusiast his vitality won’t surprise any of us. Sponsored by the ORG, Ride with Larry was aired in March at the prestigious Cleveland International Film Festival.
Hemp Economics. Ohio is the quintessential agricultural state, manufacturing state and distribution state, which form the key ingredients to growth markets. Current reports place U.S. retail sales of all hemp-based products at nearly $500 million per year. As an event sponsor, ORG speakers brought this message to the annual conferences of the Ohio Farmers Union in January 2014 and the Ohio Ecological Farm and Food Association in February 2014.
Plant Kingdom. In February 2014, PBS QUEST science, funded by the National Science Foundation, reported from ORG sponsor Plant Kingdom Snackery and Bakery about hemp seed foods in an extensive piece that was heard by tens of thousands in an overwhelmingly positive report on 90.3 FM.
We Won! Engaging the Opposition. ORG representatives engaged opposition forces in several debates and handily won them all. In February, they vied with representatives of the Drug Free Action Alliance in a National Town Hall debate that aired in 50+ national media markets. The DFAA conceded at the end. In March, the ORG won a similar contest to a standing-room-only crowd at Ohio University’s Baker Center Theater and similarly swayed the audience at a College of Wooster event.
Research and Resources. With support from the Ohio Rights Group Education Fund, two new web resource pages for Medical Cannabis and Industrial Hemp were added to the ORG website. The Medical Cannabis page contains links to well over 200 clinical research studies into the medicinal and therapeutic uses of cannabis for 18 different medical conditions, from Alzheimer’s to Traumatic Brain Injury. Information on the human endocannabinoid system and cannabinoid patents can be referenced there as well. The Industrial Hemp page is rich with resources that include over 100 links to hemp-focused statistics, market analyses, production assessments and trade associations. There are overviews of hemp fuels, hemp nutrition and hempcrete, all punctuated with colorful graphs and informative videos.
Meet & Greet. The ORG's November 30th Meet and Greet was a smashing success. Held at the Venice Club in Columbus, the event garnered well over 100 RSVPs. Almost that many attendees over the course of the afternoon heard presentations by ORG President John Pardee and the OCRA's Committee to Represent the Petitioners, among others, and engaged in a robust discussion of fundraising, petitioning and plans for the future.
A Vital and Compliant ORG. In July and August, the ORG reviewed its operation to ensure organizational stability, financial integrity and compliance with federal and state law. The ORG received its unchallenged determination letter from the IRS in July, affirming the group’s status as a 501(c)(4) non-profit advocacy organization. The Alternative Health and Renewable Resource statewide ballot issue committee was also formed in July. To enable the receipt of tax-deductible contributions, the ORG established the Ohio Rights Group Education Fund under a fiscal agent agreement, with filing of the application for 501(c)(3) anticipated by the end of the year. The ORG’s IRS 990-N for 2013 and its Charitable Trust report to the Ohio Attorney General were submitted in August. The ORG’s financial position was determined to be sound, and it is in good standing with all federal and state regulators.
Composed the OCRA. In January 2013, recomposed the Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment (OCRA) to legalize the medical and therapeutic uses of cannabis and the industrial use of hemp in Ohio.
Formed the ORG. Filed restated non-profit Articles of Incorporation with the Ohio Secretary of State in January 2013 and sat an initial board of directors.
Built a Business Plan. Composed a strategic Business Plan to advance the ORG and pass the OCRA based on Peter Lewis’ 2011 RFP.
Certified the OCRA. Collected 1,388 signatures of registered Ohio voters in May 2013 and submitted them to Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine to obtain his certification of the OCRA. With the Ohio Ballot Board’s accompanying certification, the ORG was green-lighted to gather the 385,245+ signatures necessary for ballot placement.
Set up Systems. Established a defined system to number and track petitions and crafted a Volunteer Agreement to enforce ORG polices concerning confidentiality, intellectual property and standards of contact. Enabled petition downloads that adhere to these standards.
Activated Volunteers. Activated over 50 Ohio counties led by “County Captains,” and under their leadership, participated in a myriad of events. Formed affinity groups for veterans, students, law enforcement and hemp.
Established an Online Presence. Began using NationBuilder to integrate social media and parse volunteers by county and region. Secured domain names and e-mail accounts for leadership.
Socialized Media. Reestablished the ORG’s Facebook presence, garnering well over 7,000 likes by October. Set up feeds for Twitter and Instagram.
Toured the State. In October 2013, staged a six city tour of Ohio featuring Ohio native Cheryl Shuman in order to promote the OCRA with 15 different events held in eight short days and sponsored by seven cannabis-related corporations. Achieved the milestone of 30,000 collected signatures.
Secured Endorsements. Attained the endorsement of Ohio Rep. Robert Hagan at the Statehouse press conference to launch the OCRA. Garnered the endorsements of Law Enforcement Against Prohibition, Veterans for Medical Marijuana Access, the Ohio Libertarian Party, former Cincinnati Police Chief Howard Rahtz, prominent therapeutic cannabis spokesperson Cheryl Shuman, and most poignantly the famed Willie Nelson with this endorsement framed against his famous song, “You Were Always on My Mind.”
Earned More Media. Garnered well over $1 million in earned media beginning in mid-April with a 10-minute WBNS “10-TV Presents” segment on medical marijuana in Ohio that featured ORG volunteers collecting signatures. The Cheryl Shuman tour accrued 35 media presentations in just eight days.
Structured Finance. In September 2013, drafted a budget and assembled the documentation necessary to file IRS Form 1024 with the Internal Revenue Service to secure tax exempt status for the Ohio Rights Group under section 501(c)(4) of the IRS code. Established the Ohio Rights Group Educational Fund and secured a 501(c)(3) fiscal agent to receive tax deductible funds, which will be used for educational and charitable activities.