Statewide, legislative leaders discuss legalizing marijuana, 2015 policy issues facing state

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — Four of Ohio's statewide officers expressed opposition Thursday to an effort to legalize medical and recreational marijuana, with the state's attorney general calling one proposal "a stupid idea."

The plan would amend the Ohio Constitution to make marijuana legal for medical and personal use for those over 21 years old.

Supporters envision a network of 10 growers sending the product to designated testing facilities for safety and potency screenings. The pot would then go to either not-for-profit medical marijuana dispensaries, retail outlets or to be infused into various consumer products.

Attorney General Mike DeWine blasted the plan, saying it would create a monopoly.

"It's a stupid idea," he told reporters in Columbus at a legislative preview session for journalists organized by The Associated Press and featuring leaders in the state. Republican Gov. John Kasich was invited but declined.

DeWine, who appeared on a panel with other GOP statewide officeholders, cited concerns that marijuana could end up in products that children could get their hands on, such as candy.

Secretary of State Jon Husted said he would "vigorously" ask voters to defeat it if gets on the November ballot.

"It is offensive to think that we would be asked to give a constitutional monopoly to the marijuana industry for a handful of individuals without the proper oversight and regulation to protect the people of Ohio," Husted said.

Treasurer Josh Mandel said the idea is not good for Ohio, particularly employers looking for drug-free workers, while Auditor Dave Yost said there should a constitutional ban on ballot issues creating monopolies.

"What will we have next? Twelve monopolies for whorehouses in the 12 largest counties? It's outrageous," Yost said.

ResponsibleOhio is one of two competing legalization campaigns pushing to legalize marijuana. The campaign has said its proposal would make marijuana safe, controlled and tested, setting up checks and balances not unlike those that currently exist for alcoholic beverages.

Responding to the comments made at AP's forum, a ResponsibleOhio campaign spokeswoman defended the proposal, saying it would generate revenue and create jobs for the state.

"Ohioans deserve a mature, honest conversation about our proposal because ultimately, the decision about whether to pass this amendment will be made by voters, not politicians," said campaign spokeswoman Lydia Bolander.

Legislative leaders also said legalizing marijuana isn't high on their to-do lists.

Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni said Ohio's first step should be investing in research on marijuana's potential medicinal benefits.

"Because when you have doctors talking about it. It's different than having people on corners trying to get petitions signed," said Schiavoni, a Boardman Democrat.

Other highlights from the forum:

— DeWine said he's expecting "dramatic" recommendations from an Ohio panel tasked with studying possible updates to police training in the wake of several recent police shootings nationally. He said he wasn't sure when the recommendations were coming.

— Ohio Supreme Court Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor said she wants to encourage voters to participate in judicial races by moving the elections to odd years and putting the candidates on the top of the ballots.

— O'Connor also called for increasing qualifications for the judiciary. Currently, attorneys need six years of practicing law to be appointed or elected to the bench.

— Husted urged lawmakers to pass legislation to reducing fees associated forming a new business to $99 from $125.

— DeWine said he is open to the idea of the state having a "drug prison" to treat addicted inmates.

— Mandel said he will ask local governments, pension funds and universities to partner with him to share their spending online. His office recently launched an online checkbook that details individual state expenses.

— Yost called for changes to Ohio law after finding that convicted felons could serve as charter school board members. He said current law bars those with only felony theft convictions from serving as charter school board members.

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