Changing Marijuana Policy, One State at a Time: Inside Ohio's Corrupt Medical Marijuana Rollout

11/02/2017 03:46 pm ET Updated Nov 20, 2017
Cannabis Business Times

This is Part 3 in a 4-part series, continued from Parts 1 and 2.

“We offered to host ResponsibleOhio on our campus, we were told if Buddie the mascot couldn’t come, we weren’t needed,” said Cassie Young, then-president of the Ohio State University chapter of Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP).

“I have no hard feelings, I want to move forward on cannabis legalization... No portion of the movement is perhaps as divided right now as Ohio. For all of the panelists, how can you remedy the fracture in the movement? And, for Ian [James] specifically, why introduce your own initiative again in 2016 rather than joining up with Legalize Ohio? ...If you do not join us, what does that mean for Ohio?” Young asked.

Ian James looked down at his lap, waiting for the cheers and applause to die down. James had just tried and failed an enormous feat: to make Ohio the first state in the nation to skip a medical marijuana law and go straight for full legalization. The effort, ResponsibleOhio (RO), failed because even pro-marijuana voters were turned off by the language, which would lock a 10-investor cartel-like oligopoly into the state constitution. With a majority of Ohio voters supporting marijuana legalization, the message was clear: it’s not about the weed, it’s about the money.

Just three weeks after the failure, James was a last minute surprise addition to a panel at the 2015 Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) International Drug Policy Reform Conference and Young took the opportunity to confront him on the campaign’s tactics in a very public way.

Young already knew James had no intention of supporting Legalize Ohio 2016/Ohioans to End Prohibition (OTEP). OTEP co-founder, Sri Kavuru, had worked to pass Issue 2, the anti-monopoly ballot initiative generated by the legislature during the same election to prevent similar schemes from ever making the ballot again. Throughout the divisive election, OTEP members were some of the most vocal opposition to RO, and in 2016, they were his competition. James had already vowed to take another run at the ballot too, pitching a new well-funded “free market” amendment just in time for the pivotal 2016 presidential election.

“I am not here to tell anyone to do anything or not do anything. Do what you want to do. This is a free world and you have every right to put whatever you want on the ballot, but there’s fundamental things we have to come to grips with. First, it’s really expensive to put something on the ballot in Ohio, and if you think you can do it with volunteers, God bless you—,” James started.

“Well you proved that we can’t do it without them, so is there some way we can come together?” Young interjected.

“There is, and I am getting to that. I think that what we have to do is have a broad conversation about this. We have to be willing to agree to disagree in certain instances, and this is one of those incidences where we are going to disagree. I have overseen the collection of over six million signatures in the state of Ohio, I can tell you, it’s really, really difficult,” James quipped back defensively.

He continued, “I did that not just with this last issue but for the last almost ten years, and I did it with a volunteer group for marriage equality where we got enough signatures to get on the ballot, we didn’t have to get on the ballot [because gay marriage was legalized nationally first], but that took years to get there. The other thing is--”.

“Can you answer the question?” Don E. Wirtshafter yelled from the audience. Wirtshafter, a 40-year cannabis advocate, hemp pioneer and Ohio native, had known James for many years, as both were from similar parts of the Appalachians. Wirtshafter had become one of the loudest critics of RO and used his national influence and connections to help defeat it. He was supporting OTEP at the time.

“Hi Don, nice to see you. So, when you look at, at what’s going on with OTEP or Legalize Ohio, they have a different structure and it’s not what I am proposing. They are proposing to say you cannot do drug testing if you are an employer. You can’t [do that]. You have a tax structure that’s set in place. We [the voters of Ohio] just passed Issue 2, it’s not compliant with Issue 2. It requires that you have two ballot issues in the state of Ohio, once you get your signatures in you are going to have two issues. If you don’t have the money to run one issue, I don’t know how you are going to run two. But that’s not—I’m not casting dispersions, I am just looking at this like reality,” James said.

The audience started murmuring.

“So why not throw your money behind us then so we can have both the people and the money?” Young asked.

James started shaking his head from side to side in disagreement. Members of the audience started clapping.

“Because, fundamentally, honestly, I don’t think that your ballot issue is compliant with the new constitutional requirements in the state of Ohio. You are going to end up with two ballot issues and you are not going to find that out until you-- in Ohio the dirty little secret about Issue 2 is that it now separates ballot issues that aren’t compliant into two—,” James started to explain again.

“I am just going to say one more thing about this,” the moderator, ACLU attorney Graham Boyd, interrupted. He gestured to Young, “I would like for you to figure out who is here with you that needs to be in this conversation.”

Boyd turned to address James who nodded eagerly, responding before formally asked, “I’ll do it.”

“I want you two to go in the hallway and talk after this, and if you can figure out there is enough common ground here that there is a possible way forward, I will convene a meeting with both of your camps to help you find a way to compromise,” Boyd said.

The crowd cheered, James looked away.

“We were hoping that after the election people would come together. All we were hearing was that wasn’t going to happen,” Young later said about the encounter.

After the panel, Young and James did meet in the hallway. By Young’s account, James had no interest in speaking with her or OTEP or finding a path forward with the grassroots activist community. By James’s account they just had to “agree to disagree” and move on. Young said she had hoped it would be different but was not surprised, as a student activist she had already experienced James’s campaign style.

Earlier in 2015, Young had revived a dormant chapter of SSDP at the Ohio State University in Columbus, where she was working on dual master’s degrees in Social Work and Policy and Public Administration. When ResponsibleOhio (Issue 3) announced their campaign, she held a meeting to discuss if and how the chapter should endorse.

“I was always opposed to Issue 3 but we definitely had a lot of disagreement in the group,” Young said.

Ultimately the chapter chose not to endorse or oppose it. They did offer to host ResponsibleOhio to campaign on the campus via their chapter on the condition that “Buddie” the marijuana mascot not be brought in. National SSDP had taken a neutral stance on RO both because of the Buddie mascot, which they described as “an affront to our careful work to end prohibition”, and because they also “couldn’t endorse the behavior and tactics of the campaign.”

“[RO] said, ‘Ok, we don’t need you. We will get on campus another way’... Rather than trying to do any sort of actual organizing or trying to work with us or build relationships with student activists and organizers, they went a different route and made it clear they didn’t value us. That was disheartening and set the tone for everything I saw from thereafter,” Young said.

By January though, James changed his tune. He would not be running another campaign, and would instead focus on his and James Gould’s cannabis holdings company, Green Light Acquisitions (GLA). Meanwhile, Gould and RO attorney Chris Stock were given a seat at the table of the Republican-led effort in the state house of representatives to propose some sort of preemptive medical cannabis legislation that would keep it off the pivotal 2016 presidential ballot while Governor Kasich was ramping up his campaign for the Republican nomination. The senate also announced it would embark on a statewide “listening tour” to hear from both supporters and opponents of medical cannabis legislation.

James and Gould believe their efforts to pass ResponsibleOhio were ultimately what made the legislature take a serious look at medical cannabis in the first place. After being named to the state’s 16-member task force, Gould told WCPO, a Cincinnati-based ABC affiliate, that he felt RO’s “scorched earth” campaign changed the conversation from “if” to “when” and that immediately after their defeat he reached out to the legislature and offered his help with a state-led effort.

“I told them [the state legislature], I will sit on this task force and I was very clear to say that ‘Yes, I will be one of the people who wants to apply for a full cultivation license and build this industry in Ohio… To me this is about building a very strongly regulated industry and one that makes good economic sense,” Gould told WCPO.

When WCPO asked about a possible conflict of interest between Gould potentially having influence over the state legislature through political donations, while also sitting on the task force and applying for a cultivator license himself, he replied that it was a given.

“I’m an independent voter - but I will always get behind a candidate that I think is going to move the state in the right direction, and when I decide to support people who I think are doing what’s right for the state- that is my right. I would love to see campaign finance reform, but that’s not the system we have, and if people don’t like the system, then change it,” he said.

James and Gould ultimately declined to fund any form of grassroots cannabis effort (or campaign finance reform), and they instead explored their options to move forward without having to engage the activist community directly. Gould also made it clear that he was aware of an incoming Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) campaign to put medical marijuana on the 2016 ballot because it had initially come to him seeking funding, which he says he declined because he had already made a commitment to the state.

Between OTEP, MPP and the state legislature, the options were piling up for Ohio voters in 2016 and advocates realized this was finally the year medical marijuana would become legal, but whose version of it would win? While activists were encouraged by the initiative efforts, they felt they already knew the answer.

“Republicans saw [MPP was] about to put medical marijuana on the ballot in a campaign year. Everyone thinks [the state legislature] suddenly got compassionate, or connected with the right wealthy people. It didn’t have anything to do with marijuana. Everyone in Ohio knows Ohio is a major swing state in an election,” says Michael Revercomb-Hickman, an Ohio activist who worked with most of the state’s cannabis initiative groups, including MPP.

“The only reason the legislators passed it, quite frankly, was because they didn’t want to see it on the ballot at the same time as a presidential election. H.B. 523 was passed in what I call ‘legislative lightspeed’,” said longtime Ohio activist Rob Ryan. “One of the Republican legislators told me they had a gun at their head. Pass this or else this will be on the ballot and it will pass. That is a given. Historically, medical marijuana ballots or marijuana ballots have outpolled the winning presidential candidate in every state for years.”

Ryan notes that in 2016, 13.2 million people voted for Donald Trump for president and 19.2 million voted in favor of state-level marijuana legislation. Marijuana was coming to Ohio, and America, and advocates had succeeded on changing the conversation from “if” to “when, how and who profits?”

Paid Activism

Gould may have been joking, or flippant, when he said that he would like to see campaign finance reform and suggested that if “people don’t like the system, then change it”, but the comment got to the root of the biggest impediment to legislative change for even the most vulnerable patients in all 50 states and especially Ohio; democracy costs a lot of money, and without it activists are little more than keyboard warriors, clicking and tapping in support of funded efforts but essentially voiceless when it comes to the life-altering specifics.

When the Ohio Rights Group began its volunteer-led effort in 2013, it was also courting investors to fund a larger campaign. ResponsibleOhio was able to steamroll those efforts and place its own version on the ballot because it had a $20 million war chest to work with. OTEP had gained serious support because its leader, Sri Kavuru, promised the money was already there.

It costs millions of dollars to buy legislative change because, despite an Ohio law that allows groups like OTEP and Ohio Rights Group to continue collecting signatures through election cycles until they make the ballot, the reality is that once they make it they will need significant resources to orchestrate a winning campaign and potentially fight off funded opposition.

After Citizen’s United and subsequent rulings, unchecked amounts of corporate cash and “dark” money have flooded into elections at all levels of government. In order for grassroots activists to compete, or even have a say, they need to either make rich and powerful friends willing to lose money for a “good cause” or they must support the agendas of better funded political action groups and their profiteer funders.

In Ohio, perhaps the most powerful swing state in the nation, marijuana law reform has been held back by a decade of failure, drama and infighting among activists paired with the willful ignorance of its legislators (See Part 1 in this series.). Many of the state’s patients and patient advocates have continually showed up to support and volunteer their time for whatever group looks like it is poised to get any legislation passed. But as cannabis becomes more of an “industry” than a “movement” out west, Ohio’s path to legal cannabis is fraught with big money from special interest groups who know the state is one of the most important political stages in the country. As the saying goes, “As goes Ohio, so goes the nation.”

Lissa Satori, one of Ohio’s newest and most prominent “activists” aligned early on with the profiteering ResponsibleOhio funders (See Part 2 in this series.). The move set her at odds with many of the state’s longtime activists. She was the president of the ORG as it seemed to be closing in on the funding it needed to pass its rights-based legislation but instead diverted the funds towards ResponsibleOhio and started a business poised to profit from it. She was never formally hired by the RO campaign, although once it went public she became its biggest cheerleader. After being accused of being a “paid shill” for RO throughout 2015, when the campaign expenses were made public in December 2015, Satori posted a link to an article on Facebook breaking down the campaign financing report, pointing out her name was not anywhere near it.

“Today is the deadline for the final PAC financial reporting for 2015 in Ohio. And that’s about all I’m going to say about that, other than to ask that the absence of names on any list is at least acknowledged silently as some of you search for proof of ‘shilldom’ from any or all groups, all sides of the fence. (By the way the idea that it is a bad thing to get paid to do something you believe in and love is misguided. There is no shame in that game),” Satori wrote in the post.

If Satori was receiving payments from Ian James’s Strategy Network or James and Gould’s Green Light Acquisitions, the private businesses do not have to make that information public like a campaign would. James denies Satori was paid by either The Strategy Network or Green Light Acquisitions, and adds that the assertion is “laughable”.

After the defeat of ResponsbleOhio, Satori set out to “be the mother plant that would unite all the activists” in Ohio behind whatever 2016 legislation met the immediate needs of the state’s patients-- or so she said. The stated purpose of United Ohio varies depending on who is asked.

Leanne Barbee, a patient and volunteer with United Ohio and later the MPP campaign, said it was her understanding United Ohio’s purpose was to unite the community around the Marijuana Policy Project initiative announced in late January 2016.

“The purpose [of United Ohio] was supposed to be to get all the groups together to get the MPP bill passed, at least that was what I was told,” Barbee says.

Barbee has diagnoses of Crohn’s Disease, fibromyalgia and psoriasis. She had volunteered for the Ohio Rights Group, Responsible Ohio and even OTEP. She says her physical condition pushed her to work with everyone, not financial motivations. She says when RO announced their campaign she supported it because it seemed the clearest and fastest path to safe access. When Barbee decided to support RO, Satori helped her get paid signature gathering work with Ian James’s Strategy Network. Barbee maintains she is only motivated towards safe access for people like her.

Lissa Satori, now employed by Marijuana Policy Project, addresses a crowd at Michigan Hash Bash in 2017
Lissa Satori, now employed by Marijuana Policy Project, addresses a crowd at Michigan Hash Bash in 2017

“If there were absolutely no way that I would ever make money in the industry, I would still continue to be an activist because this means so much to me. It literally saved my life [from opiate painkillers]. It saved my life and I want it to save other people's’ lives. I couldn’t care less if I ever made a penny off of it, and not a lot of people [in Ohio] can say that,” Barbee says.

Michael Hiles, a former member of OTEP, and two other members of OTEP including Jake Cabrera, met “secretly” with Satori in a pub in Gahanna, Ohio in early January. In the meeting, she said she had formed United Ohio to get the activist community united behind Ian James and James Gould’s proposed 2016 initiative.

“The way she was doing that was, Jimmy Gould had loaded up his regulatory rich initiative and then they left sort of a half-page of blank space. She said, ‘This is not going to be more than X number of pages and you guys basically have some say in this, but we suffice you to get behind it and promote it. If you guys fight it, then it won’t happen,’” Hiles said. “My attitude at that point was not only no, but hell no.”

Hiles and the other anonymous attendee confirm they signed nondisclosure agreements with Satori. After they rejected the deal, James Gould was publicly named to the state’s task force the next day.

United Ohio’s co-founder, Brad White, says the group was not founded to support any initiative at all.

“If we could bring together leaders from various organizations and groups under one specific vision, which was to put patients’ interests ahead of everything else, then we might be able to start to kind of end the anger that overwhelmed us in 2015 and focus on doing right in 2016,” said White. “[United Ohio] was very much about bringing everyone back together and getting focused on patients. At the end of the day, it didn’t really matter what the ballot initiative looked like, as much as it had put medical cannabis in the hands of patients as quickly as possible.”

White’s name is on the United Ohio incorporation documents. The group did not become a formal organization in the state until late April 2016, less than a month before the legislature’s bill would make its way to the governor’s desk and nearly six months after Satori started using the name. White confirms a portion of the funding for United Ohio came from ResponsibleOhio investor Cheney Pruett, CEO of payday lender CashMax and owner of DMP Investments in Texarkana, Texas. In 2016, along with United Ohio, Pruett (via Broadleaf PLG) funded about half of the Arkansas Issue 6 campaign, a medical marijuana ballot initiative that successfully sued a grassroots group of patients to get their initiative thrown off the ballot (Issue 7). Issue 6 ultimately passed, and Cheney has likely applied for multiple licenses in Arkansas’s burgeoning market (but is confirmed to be involved in at least one).

Although James denies paying her and she denies getting paid, Satori still worked to promote James and Gould’s work. When RO had failed just two months earlier, Satori immediately took to Facebook to survey interest from the grassroots community in supporting James and Gould’s new plan, should they choose to put something on the 2016 ballot.

“Troops: it is widely reported that RO plans to solicit feedback and try another run in 2016 with a ‘consensus model’ that will be more attractive. If they do, will you be willing to work with them with current leadership in place? If yes, why? If no, what changes would need to be made in order for them to gain your support? What changes in the language are important to you?” Satori posted on November 5.

On November 18 she relayed messages from the RO campaign, sharing their public opinion survey for what they were calling “free market” language, which would include the activists. At the same time, she started attending meetings for OTEP, which was bringing in more and more interest and volunteers after the defeat of ResponsibleOhio.

In December 2015, Satori hosted a party at her Gahanna home in an attempt to bring the advocacy community together under United Ohio. Many OTEP volunteers attended. One month after the defeat of ResponsibleOhio, they were the only campaign approved by the state collecting signatures for 2016. But as volunteers streamed into OTEP hoping to get their version of legalization onto Ohio’s ballot, OTEP’s leadership began to send mixed messages.

“[Leadership] led us to believe they would be ramping up our campaign, doing proper outreach, small scale fundraising and talking about things for weeks that we were all waiting to get started on,” says Cassie Young. “They started freezing the rest of the campaign out, they went rogue a little bit and they wouldn’t address our questions. We were kinda being placated and they were trying to buy time. We sat lame duck for a few weeks and it became clear something else was going on behind the scenes, that [OTEP] was beginning to transition.”

OTEP gained momentum because not only was the ballot language approved by the secretary of state for collection, but its leader, Sri Kavuru, made a lot of promises, including that he would be fully funded. OTEP promised the tech-savvy and the RO war chest without the oligopoly strings attached. OTEP, however, never took in more than a few thousand in donations, and when that information became public, it was clear to the rest of the reform community they wouldn’t be making the 2016 ballot. In early January, with talk of MPP coming in, Kavuru resigned and another volunteer, Jake Cabrera, took over leadership. Under Cabrera, OTEP became Ohioans for Compassionate Care (OCC) and a support wing of MPP’s efforts. That’s when the brief and fragile activist peace began to disintegrate.

“It’s not just enough for us to get out of the way of MPP - we must put aside our differences and do our best to live up to the expectations of sick and dying citizens of Ohio. There is no more time to waste,” OTEP now OCC said on their website.

Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) is the largest, most successful and best funded cannabis reform policy organization in the world. MPP had been a major part of Colorado’s victory in 2012 and subsequent states around the Midwest and east coast since then. When MPP first showed up in Ohio, OTEP tried to see how they could work with them, and possibly fund the existing campaign, which had already collected tens of thousands of signatures. They made arrangements for MPP to pay back debts to vital OTEP contractors, who were promised paid jobs with the MPP campaign.

Jacob Wagner, the Cleveland attorney who co-founded OTEP with Kavuru says he is disappointed in what happened to the organization. He had authored the group’s more inclusive ballot initiative and was hospitalized for physical injuries during the transition. He says he regrets his absence in the negotiations.

“The way [our] campaign ended is really what left the worst taste in my mouth. MPP, when they came into the state with their medical, they made some promises to our campaign that I don’t feel as though they fulfilled. They came in and bullied us and stole our organization and didn’t really give us credit for the work we had done,” Wagner said.

MPP had taken the group’s infrastructure but not kept its promises to pay the campaign’s contractors. One contractor, a media professional who worked on Oregon’s 2014 legalization campaign, said that after months of angry follow ups he was paid directly by OTEP’s Jake Cabrera half of what he was owed. Others were never paid. Most of the negotiations were made specifically with Cabrera, who was the only member of OTEP leadership who declined to speak on or off the record.

“I think [MPP] wanted to appear more credible in the eyes of the activist community and that’s why they wanted it in [OTEP’s] name. That was the whole point in bringing us on in the first place, to give them credibility in the activist community,” Wagner said.

“This is War”

Shortly after announcing their campaign in January, MPP worked with Cabrera as a representative of OTEP to conduct a statewide poll that would look at different ballot language ideologies in order to determine what sort of medical-only program would most likely succeed with the majority of the community’s support in 2016. For a brief and fleeting moment, many of the activist factions had reached the conclusion they needed to work with each other, personal differences aside, and there was a short-lived “kumbaya moment”, as Don E. Wirtshafter refers to it.

Jake Cabrera, Kavuru’s replacement at OTEP, had entered into negotiations to work with and support the MPP bill and reached out to various activists to finance 50 percent of a poll on ballot language, to be split with MPP. $20,000 was raised via Cabrera, with $10,000 coming directly from Wirtshafter. In emails from MPP, Wirtshafter and others were promised a “seat at the table” to determine the ballot language. They were explicitly promised that the rights-based language they wanted would be polled.

Wirtshafter was instructed to wire the money to the Ohioans for Medical Marijuana campaign, listed with the same bank account and routing number as the Marijuana Policy Project Foundation account in Washington D.C. Cabrera and other OTEP leadership had signed an NDA with MPP, although Wirtshafter and others had not. Weeks went by with no results and Wirtshafter and others started asking questions directly to MPP’s executive director Rob Kampia, who did not respond. By mid-February, Kampia said the poll was off because the NDA had been broken. The money was returned.

Wirtshafter and the other activists who had helped fund the poll had already been working on another ballot amendment under the group Grassroots Ohio (GRO). They were initially open to working with MPP, but became disillusioned after the poll. With the hiring of John Pardee and Lissa Satori, who they felt were responsible for the RO-fallout with the Ohio Rights Group, GRO became MPP’s most vocal pro-cannabis opposition.

Wirtshafter reached out directly to MPP’s media director Mason Tvert around the same time to explain his opposition and “declare war” on Kampia.

“MPP announces it has hired John Pardee in addition to Lissa Satori. Ok, I get it. It’s all about the money and MPP will whore for whomever is flipping the bucks. The whole thing is corrupt from the top. Rob Kampia knows it but can’t resist the money being offered. Advertising for the leadership positions was a charade. These two were chosen well in advance and are being hired despite many people in the know telling you it would be a fatal mistake. That MPP could hire Lissa Satori and John Pardee means only one thing, this is old RO money coming in for a second round.

“This is obviously someone who has not learned a thing from the ass kicking we gave RO in 2015. Instead of an effort to unite Ohio, this leadership choice is guaranteed to inflame and further divide. MPP blunders forward with these two hires running the show at its own risk. What really has us furious is MPP playing us, saying they knew Lissa Satori was dead meat in Ohio. They [OTEP] coaxed us into working with MPP on a poll, playing us for money on the promise of partnership. This shows all of us on the ground that the whole thing is past corruption, that MPP has now become the enemy to beat in Ohio. Sorry Mason. I love you and appreciate all you have to do to stay in your position. But this is War.

“Even in the midst of the upcoming mudslinging, I want you to know that you may reach out to me at any time to settle any issue, correct any wrong, seek any apology, work together on anything or you simply need a shoulder to cry on. I was gung ho ready to work with MPP. I thought that maybe, just maybe, the MPP organization had matured enough to get beyond its reputation for corruption, coke parties and grants awarded on the basis of whom Rob [Kampia, the executive director] screws.

“Instead, a week after agreeing to split the costs of a $20,000 survey, my colleagues and I feel totally shafted and will demand our money back,” Wirtshafter wrote.

A few days later, Kampia released his first public fundraising email.

“Nearly four months ago, 64 percent of Ohio voters rejected a poorly worded marijuana-legalization initiative on Election Day. The nation watched in horror as Ohio activists ate their young. Now enters MPP. In consultation with the Ohio community, we’ve crafted a consensus initiative that will solidly legalize medical marijuana, and 74 percent [according to MPP polling] of Ohio voters support this initiative,” he wrote.

Kampia also threatened to “throw the bill in the trash” if they couldn’t raise the necessary $900,000 by mid-March to get it on the ballot. He insisted that if the money was received, an initiative would be passed.

MPP worked closely with former OTEP leadership to promote their work through its social networks as Ohioans for Medical Marijuana (OMM). Shortly after the campaign started, a second page posing as OMM started pushing an article titled “The Breast Massage Will Happen” as paid content into news feeds on Facebook, targeting major Ohio cities as well as Washington D.C. and Denver, Colorado. The article detailed an incident in 2009 in which a handful of MPP staffers quit after they say Kampia sexually assaulted a young female staffer. Undeterred, Kampia pushed forward promoting the MPP Ohio plan. The page was formed not by Wirtshafter, but close affiliates.

In February, Kampia sat down for an interview with Rob Ryan of Ohio Patients Network (and formerly of Ohio NORML) to talk about MPP’s path forward in the state. Kampia told Ryan his goal was to pass a constitutional amendment for medical marijuana only on the November 2016 ballot. The bill would roll out a program in a year’s time, with just a 15-grower oligopoly. MPP national would bring in direction and expertise but the campaign itself would be run on the ground by Ohioans, specifically Michael Revercomb-Hickman, Lissa Satori and John Pardee.

While the choice to hire Revercomb, a veteran, writer and activist who had historically worked peacefully with most Ohio cannabis groups was uncontroversial, some activists, particularly those working with Wirtshafter’s GRO, were stunned by the hiring of Satori and Pardee. Ryan questioned Kampia directly on the hiring choices.

“Because many people are still feeling bad about the ResponsibleOhio campaign last year, what do you say to activists who want to be involved with the new campaign but perhaps didn't work well with Michael, Lissa, or John last year?” Ryan asked.

“Not everyone needs to get along with everyone; rather, you just need to get along with someone. But if you're the kind of person who doesn't want to work with Michael, Lissa, John, or literally anyone at MPP, then I guess you won't be working on this campaign. No hard feelings,” Kampia replied. “I’ve been working on the marijuana issue for 26 years, and it’s pretty clear that Ohio has the highest per-capita level of infighting of any state in the nation. That said, everyone we’ve spoken with in Ohio shares the same view of what can be reasonably accomplished this calendar year, which is legalizing medical marijuana at the ballot box.”

Kampia was also flagrantly dismissive of the state legislature’s efforts at a bill, saying that legislators already had years and the hearings were “too little, too late” and that is why he was bypassing them to take it to the 2016 ballot. Kampia said the Ohio plan, while still being written at the time, would be based on existing medical cannabis laws in other states by creating a list of qualifying conditions, small personal home cultivation for patients and caregivers, state-licensing of growers, processors, labs and distributors, set sales tax rates and create a government body to oversee the program. Unlike RO, Kampia said his bill would ensure the “deck wouldn’t be stacked against anyone”.

During the campaign, as “The Breast Massage Will Happen” started swirling around on social networks, a group of “Twitter ninjas” appeared to fight Kampia’s enemies; Green Flower Group. Individual GRO activists, including Cassie Young and Wirtshafter, became its main targets.

“All of this kind of drove me away from [drug policy reform], not just because of what happened in Ohio, but because what happened in Ohio revealed to me so clearly the challenges when it comes to the devil being in the details when it comes to legalization. We all agree we should legalize, but when it comes down to how we do it there are vastly different theories,” Young said.

Rob Kampia of Marijuana Policy Project, on Fox News.
Rob Kampia of Marijuana Policy Project, on Fox News.

As Goes Ohio, So Goes the Nation

The territory that would become present-day Ohio was first colonized by European-Americans shortly after the Revolutionary War. When it gained full statehood in 1803, it was admitted to the Union as a “free state”, and became a hub on the Underground Railroad for slaves fleeing nearby Southern states for semi-freedom in Ohio or full-freedom in Canada.

Ohio’s geography betrays its formal borders; there are many distinct and important American regions that meet within them. Ohio’s population is increasingly both diverse and segregated and a critical bellwether for national politics. The state is one of the most important swing states in the country casting its pivotal Electoral College votes behind almost every elected president in the last 175 years. In 1840, newsmen of the day declared “As Goes Ohio, So Goes the Nation”, a rallying cry later to be taken up by ResponsibleOhio’s Ian James.

Today, Ohio is the seventh most populated state in the country. It is both equally rural and urban and its demographic makeup is often described as the perfect “microcosm of America”. Many of Ohio’s cannabis activists and business investors have been involved in or tied to the national parties, which both focus significant campaign spending and resources in the state every four years. In Ohio, like Florida, the same money and politics that come into play is also heavily investing in cannabis and lobbying at the state level as the industry edges closer to being broken wide open by federal rescheduling. If, or when, cannabis is rescheduled, investors in states with vertically integrated licensing limited to a handful of deep-pocketed players are positioning themselves to profit from the biggest initial public offerings since Facebook, or potentially in history.

When James was preparing the ResponsibleOhio prospectus in 2014, he used the infamous “As Goes Ohio” phrase to describe the investment opportunity he was providing through the ballot initiative, which he touted as replicable in other state elections, but also through his private business with Gould, Green Light Acquisitions. Both businesses were essentially promising the same thing; large-scale ownership opportunities in the industry before it goes legal.

Like the entire United States, Ohioans have been polling majority support for both medical and adult use cannabis for years, but the state’s ingrained politics, highly divisive activist climate and the influx of money in elections since Citizens United have continually suppressed grassroots efforts to pass rights-based legislation like the pioneering medical cannabis programs in western states that pushed the issue to the forefront of national politics. Instead, more and more states are passing restrictive laws that limit production to a small group of wealthy investors while preventing the proliferation of the plant by small businesses and average citizens.

Despite Ohio’s support of the issue and strategic importance nationally, drug policy reform groups have generally avoided wading into the muck of the warring activist factions. In 2015, when ResponsibleOhio brought the concept of a cultivation oligopoly to the ballot as a condition of passing a legalization bill that would also benefit medical patients, three of the five national major drug policy reform organizations formally took neutral stances rather than endorse it outright; Americans for Safe Access (ASA), Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) and Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP). The National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) chose to endorse with caveats. Kampia wanted the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP) to endorse it but ultimately was forced to take a neutral stance as well.

Ethan Nadelmann, founder and executive director of DPA, was public in both his uneasy feelings about ResponsibleOhio as well as the infighting the state has been mired in, saying if RO didn’t pass in 2015, he didn’t see anything realistically passing until at least 2020.

“There have been activists in Ohio for a long time, for a while I stayed out of Ohio because it seemed like there were always seven activists and 12 lawsuits going on and I couldn’t keep them all straight,” Nadelmann commented in 2015.

When the ResponsibleOhio campaign went public, Keith Stroup, founder of NORML, first suggested NORML would be endorsing it, should it qualify, on the Ohio NORML emailing list. Stroup defended the decision saying NORML had chosen to endorse the controversial legalization ballot initiative that passed in Washington state in 2012, despite much of the industry and many prominent activists standing in opposition both in and outside Washington. Stroup stated in a February 2015 email to the Ohio NORML mailing list that NORML chose to support Washington’s efforts because it was the way to win.

“You are prolonging prohibition, waiting for the perfect proposal. Let's stop arresting smokers, and then we can hopefully resolve some of these other issues,” Stroup concluded.

He expanded on those sentiments that July in an editorial about NORML’s decision to endorse.

“At NORML we recognize there are many inequities in the free market system, with an ever-increasing gap between the rich and the rest of us. But NORML is not an organization established to deal with income inequality; we are a lobby for responsible marijuana smokers,” Stroup wrote.

Stroup’s position proved controversial within Ohio. Ohio NORML not only didn’t endorse RO but its board voted to remove longtime activist and then-president Rob Ryan over his outspoken support of the initiative and interactions with opponents. They claimed Ryan had “become abusive” in arguments with other NORML members. Members of Citizens Against Responsible Ohio pushed the unsubstantiated rumor Ryan had been paid for his endorsement by the campaign.

Ryan says his decision to endorse was not because he was paid by the campaign, as the rumors were suggesting, but because the campaign had a realistic chance of passing and bringing safe access to patients. In February 2015, Ryan had what he called “extensive ongoing conversations” with Ian James in Cincinnati. Ryan says, as the president and founder of Miami Valley NORML chapter, he and his board had negotiated some needed suggestions.

“NORML’s mission is to re-legalize marijuana and stop arresting people. It wasn’t about the economics of the situation. I supported RO because they were about legalization… I stuck to my guns and said ‘This is NORML’s mission and I am a mission-oriented person…. I got booted out of [Ohio] NORML,’” Ryan said about his decision to campaign for RO.

Ohio NORML formally revoked Ryan’s membership after the endorsement, national NORML retaliated by temporarily de-listing all of its Ohio chapters.

Like Stroup and Ryan, Rob Kampia had early on wanted to endorse ResponsibleOhio. According to former MPP staffer Dan Riffle, Kampia had been in communications with Ian James in early 2014.

Riffle, an Ohio native, was a prosecutor in Appalachian-Vinton County before working for MPP. Riffle said the area had a thriving underground growing scene and he had friends that were consumers. After less than a year working for the county, Riffle quickly shifted his focus to drug policy reform. He started reading about national reform organizations online in an attempt to see where he could fit.

“MPP looked very professional and sharp and had a very sort of wonky think-tank attitude towards legalization from what I could see,” Riffle said.

Riffle was hired by MPP first as an Ohio state lobbyist from 2009 to 2013 and then from 2014 through the 2015 election he worked as the director of federal policy in Washington D.C.

Riffle says when Kampia was in early communications with James before ResponsibleOhio went public, it was because James had reached out to seek general guidance on marijuana policy, potential campaign financing and general expertise from MPP’s involvement in other successful marijuana campaigns. Riffle already personally knew James from his casino oligopoly initiative.

Riffle says he was “not privy to the conversations”, but that when the campaign went public, a series of meetings were held to determine if MPP should endorse and how they would or would not assist the campaign. They spoke at length about how the grow regulations were structured, with a vocal few who were vehemently opposed to the oligopoly RO would have established.

“I was very strongly against endorsing it. For me there is a right and a wrong way to make marijuana legal. For Rob [Kampia] and other people on the staff, the bottom line is marijuana must be made legal,” Riffle said.

Riffle said James had reached out to him personally to become more involved “about two or three times during the campaign.” Riffle both declined to help and publicly opposed it on his social media accounts.

“[James] called me a few times and was like, ‘Think about all the sick patients in Ohio this would help, and you are hurting them and standing in the way’, which is incredibly insulting to me as a person who worked as a prosecutor and left that to work on [drug policy reform] for the last five years at a non-profit salary in D.C., when he is a millionaire trying to get rich off legalization,” Riffle says.

James “took shots” at Riffle on Twitter shortly after the conversation.

Riffle approached Kampia directly about his concerns over endorsing the amendment, saying that he came to MPP because he thought they were about crafting smart policies that benefited all citizens and that he didn’t see MPP’s mission as simply “legalizing marijuana at all costs”.

“Rob heard me out and then said, ‘As the executive director and founder of MPP that is not true. We are an advocacy organization and we believe marijuana should be legal, and so we should endorse ResponsibleOhio,’” Riffle said.

After that, Riffle says, one of MPP’s board members and major donors got wind of the impending endorsement and made their stance in their opposition to the oligopoly language in the bill clear. MPP ultimately took a neutral position on the legislation.

“There was never an official vote on whether to endorse it and I think Rob just kinda decided not to get into the politics about it, so we decided not to go forward with the endorsement. We set a relatively outward neutrality on it,” Riffle says.

Riffle adds that although they never formally took a public position, they did send out action alerts to remind pro-marijuana voters in Ohio to go out to the polls. Over the course of the 2015 campaign, Riffle started finding that his goals were not in line with Kampia’s and submitted a 30-day resignation shortly before the election. Kampia responded by “accelerating his departure.”

“I was pretty much fired for my vocal opposition to RO,” Riffle says.

Riffle closely watched the 2016 MPP-sponsored Ohioans for Medical Marijuana (OMM) campaign in Ohio and says Kampia approached the RO investors first for funding.

“Rob just felt like there is a boatload of money in Ohio that is interested in this. His job is fundraising, so based on the amount of money they were able to collect, he was very much of the position that this is a fundraising opportunity for us,” Riffle said. “Anywhere there is money to pay MPP to go to work, MPP will go to work. Ohio wasn’t really on the shortlist of places to get involved until RO ran and that flushed the money out.”

The Cost of War

Since the declaration of the War on Drugs by President Nixon in 1970, United States taxpayers have spent $1 trillion to wage it. Grassroots activists pushing to right the wrongs of prohibition have been organized and seeking their own funding to fight back for just as long.

Before cannabis became the fastest growing industry in the United States, there was a very small and well connected network of national activists fighting back against the government behemoth, state-by-state and city-by-city. Since its founding in the early 1970s, almost all the country’s activists were connected via NORML, including Don E. Wirtshafter and MPP founder Rob Kampia.

The relationship between Kampia and Wirtshafter goes beyond Ohio-based campaigns. Wirtshafter says he met Kampia in 1992 when Kampia was still a student at Pennsylvania State University. Other national NORML members of the time confirm that in 1995 when Kampia and MPP co-founder Chuck Thomas were interns for NORML they locked themselves in its DC headquarters and downloaded and stole the mailing and donor lists to start MPP.

“They worked there [NORML] probably six months and leave with the mailing lists to start MPP. They jumped ship at a time when NORML was more fucked up than normal,” Wirtshafter says.

In the early 90s, with the increased DEA raids on smoke shops, NORML became somewhat inactive, held alive by the free advertisement it received in High Times Magazine.

Rob Kampia formed MPP in 1996, but it didn’t really take off until 1998 when it landed its first big donor, Wirtshafter’s uncle and the billionaire heir of Progressive Insurance Peter Lewis. Lewis was one of the largest individual contributors to drug law reform efforts until his death in 2013.

Lewis met Kampia for the first time at the 1998 Drug Policy Alliance conference in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Wirtshafter flew back to Ohio after the conference with Lewis on his private plane where he says Lewis sought his opinion on Kampia and MPP, which he wanted to fund. Wirtshafter told Lewis that Kampia was “capable.”

“That Monday I called Rob and said ‘You need to give Peter Lewis a big proposal because he really wants someone to lead the charge and you impressed him. You could get this thing if you do it, you should ask for a whole lot of money and do it. ...He got $9 million in that first year,” Wirtshafter says. “Even now Peter’s son and I talk about how we created a monster.”

Wirtshafter quickly grew wary of Kampia and made his feelings known. This may have contributed to Kampia’s avoidance of the state until after Lewis’s death, along with Wirtshafter’s ongoing involvement with the on-the-ground drama.

So in 2016, with Wirtshafter and Kampia officially “at war”, how did Wirtshafter become, according to Ohio Secretary of State campaign finance records, the single largest personal contributor to MPP’s Ohio campaign?

MPP’s amended returns show that of the $473,837 raised for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, $410,000 came directly from the Marijuana Policy Project Foundation itself, $39,500 from The Government Integrity Fund and $20,000 directly from Wirtshafter. The remaining $4,337 came from small contributions, most $100 or less.

Wirtshafter maintains he did not donate $20,000 to OMM or MPP but instead contributed $10,000 via Jake Cabrera of OTEP/OCC towards a $20,000 contribution of MPP’s $40,000 poll, but that the money was returned when Kampia refused to share the full poll language.

The Government Integrity Fund (GIF) is a notorious dark money Ohio-based PAC affiliated with the Republican Governors Association. GIF also dumped $1.3 million into the 2014 election of Ohio state treasurer Josh Mandel’s failed senate bid as well as the 2014 successful bid by Arkansas’s Tom Cotton. According to tools made available by DonorSearch.net, ResponsibleOhio investor Cheney Pruett (who also bankrolled the Arkansas campaign that took down the activists) also has been a regular contributor to Mandel’s attempts to take an Ohio senate seat as well as Governor Kasich’s presidential campaigns.

Of the money raised by MPP in Ohio, nearly $450,000 was paid to Arno Petitions in California, a group similar to James’s Strategy Network. Arno is one of the largest firms in the country and has worked on “700 state and local ballot measures and only twice has failed to qualify for the ballot.” Arno also happened to work on Ian James’s casino oligopoly in 2009, which was written similar to RO and created 10 sites for legal gambling financed by the casinos themselves.

A total of five ballot initiative firms, including Arno, received significant sums of money, listed as “consulting” fees.

$12,000 was paid to Capital City Strategies, a full service political firm run by Trevor Vessels. Vessels, once the deputy finance director for the state’s Republican party, like Arno, also worked on Ian James’s signature achievement, passing the state casino oligopoly, the payment was likely for legislative lobbying. $10,000 went to the Balodis Group (likely for legislative lobbying), $4,500 paid to Wenzel Strategies, an extreme right-wing pollster and lobbying group known for inflammatory polling that worked with Kentucky Senator Rand Paul, and an additional $74,000 was paid to another similar firm, Battleground Strategies, whose founder Brandon Lynaugh was tapped to be the director of the OMM campaign. Lynaugh is the current campaign manager of MPP’s 2018 Michigan legalization campaign.

Although many of Ohio’s donors thought they were funding the Ohioans for Medical Marijuana Campaign, they were actually donating to The Marijuana Policy Project Foundation, MPP’s political action committee. MPP was reached for comment and a request for a breakdown of the 2016 financials for the MPP Foundation to provide better insight to the confusing campaign finance behind their local campaign. MPP has declined to comment on the specific financials or make their 2016 financial records available until the end of 2017, which will provide better insight into what happened specifically in Ohio.

But available financial disclosures from 2004-2015 do contextualize the legislative priorities of the organization.

MPP received its first major sustained donor, Peter Lewis, in 1998. After the scandal at the organization in 2010 where former staffers accused Kampia of sexual assault and the subsequent negative press, Lewis took control of the grants he had previously tasked Kampia with awarding to smaller state level organizations and instead gave that power and responsibility to Graham Boyd of the ACLU and Americans for Safe Access’s Steph Sherer.

Lewis passed away at age 80 in 2013. Lewis, however, was not MPP’s only funder, and in more recent years was not even its most influential. Around these years, funding ramped up from other sources.

Since 2007, MPP and MPP Foundation have received a significant amount of their revenue from hedge fund directors affiliated with alcohol, tobacco, pharmaceuticals and fossil fuels. One of MPP’s most significant funders, and board member for the last 10 years, is William (Bill) Dunn. According to tools made available by Donorsearch.net, Dunn is a contributor to the Ohio Republican Federal Candidates, a major contributor with multiple PACs affiliated with the National Rifle Association and a major Republican political donor. Dunn has streamed regular significant contributions into MPP’s coffers (up to 40 percent in some years) from his various PACs and affiliated PACs since 2007.

Via multiple foundations with laughable-if-not-awful acronyms like The Foundation for Understanding Capitalist Knowledge & Unregulated Markets (FUCKUM), Dunn’s Foundation for the Advancement of Right Thinking (DFART) and DonorsTrust, Dunn and his affiliates have been fueling MPP’s operations and recent campaigns. Dunn, a Stuart, Florida-based hedge fund trader, runs a billion-dollar financial management firm, DUNN Capital, as well as the world’s 27th-largest hedge fund, Dunn’s World Monetary & Agriculture (WMA) Program, which “utilizes a long-term trend following strategy, encompassing a portfolio of financial, energy, metal and agricultural futures markets.”

While profiting off the speculation of future energy and agricultural commodity markets, Dunn has become both one of the most influential funders of both marijuana legalization and climate change denial. It’s an odd mix considering cannabis legalization advocates are constantly promoting the carbon negative hemp crop as an alternative to fossil fuels as an energy source.

Through DFART, FUCKUM, the Dunn Foundation and other hard-to-trace political action groups, which makes grants from Dunn’s personal wealth, Dunn has funded well known Libertarian led or leaning organizations such as Marijuana Policy Project, the CATO Institute and Reason Magazine, but also the Conservative Enterprise Institute (CEI). CEI was founded in the 1980s by Exxon Mobil and currently employs President Trump’s director of the transition of the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) Myron Ebell. Ebell is one the most vocal critics of man-made climate change on cable media. Before he was denying climate change he worked publicly to deny the correlation between smoking cigarettes and lung cancer for big tobacco companies. Currently Bill Dunn is the only individual funder of the CEI alongside the American Petroleum Institute, Dow Chemical, Eli Lily and, still, Exxon Mobil, whose former CEO Rex Tillerson is now President Trump’s secretary of state.

Dunn Foundation trustee Thomas Beach’s son, Jon Beach, is a board member of the MPP Foundation alongside Dunn. The elder Beach is the owner and founder of Beach Investment Counsel which is a major shareholder of InBev/Anheuser Busch (BUD). Beach is also on the board of DonorsTrust, which is yet another significant source of MPP’s revenue.

Earlier this year, Kampia admitted to seeking out and obtaining tobacco money to run their Michigan 2018 legalization campaign, and says he is not opposed to adopting pay-to-play legislation for anyone willing to put it up.

“It’s the kind of thing where I actually go out and I try to court well-funded constituencies and philanthropists, and say, ‘What do you want, what do you hate, what’s going to turn you off so I can’t actually ask for money later?’ and sometimes you get so far as to say… ‘Is there something that we put in here that would cause you to immediately escalate your commitment? ...To go that [specific] would definitely require someone to have to donate more, and no one is willing to. It wasn’t like ‘Hey, does anyone want to give us $500,000 for an oligopoly?’ That’s sort of like asking for marriage on the first date. That’s more of what would have happened if the conversation had gone further,” Kampia told MJ Business Daily in April.

MPP may have gotten its start from the grassroots that fueled the legalization movement, but now it derives its power from the very industries that profit off prohibition.

Paying the Troll Toll

After Wirtshafter “declared war” on Kampia and his close associates started promoting embarrassing articles, troll attacks were lobbed against all the Grassroots Ohioans (GRO) activists working with Wirtshafter. The group fizzled out, both from lack of funding and from each of its members giving up fighting the trolls and dropping out, one by one. GRO’s rights-based amendment remains approved for circulation and signature-gathering today.

When Wirtshafter refused to participate in United Ohio or support MPP, and opted instead to push his own version of legalization through GRO, Lissa Satori took note. She had attempted to create a united activist front for future initiatives, United Ohio, and hosted a party at her home to try to bring everyone together. Wirtshafter ultimately did not go although he was invited, and others had encouraged him to.

“Jake [Cabrera, of OTEP] tried hard to get me to that party. They even scheduled a meeting with me at a motel right down the street. If this party were anywhere else but Lissa’s house, I might have gotten myself to go. Knowing what I knew, I could not support a unity with Lissa in the center. I drove by the party, but I could not get myself to stop,” Wirtshafter said.

Satori and Wirtshafter have been at odds since the downfall of the Ohio Rights Group’s rights-based language and the rise of RO. Since that time, he has promoted the narrative that she was an RO plant sent in to intentionally sabotage the ORG. She responded by promoting the notion that Wirtshafter’s opposition to ResponsibleOhio and MPP were based in his own profit protectionism and involvement in the creation of cannabis pharmaceutical firm GW Pharmaceuticals.

After the downfall of RO, Satori began dating a member of the No to RO opposition, Eric Babalis. Babalis is a Michigan resident, originally from Toledo, Ohio, and had become actively engaged in the No to RO campaign because he was worried a similar legalization scheme would be headed for the Michigan ballot.

Babalis describes himself as having “three goals in life”: “help protect the weak, inspire the hopeless, and reduce my competition to the weak and hopeless”. When the RO campaign was over, Babalis became a “consultant” to OTEP before its transition into MPP, saying he would provide “fundraising” and build “social media support” which he provided via the No to RO Facebook page, which was converted into “Green Flower Group”.

Babalis describes Green Flower Group as “the bad boys and girls of activism”, but in reality, it is a collection of “sock puppet” social media accounts utilized to push out messaging and attack opponents. During the time Satori worked with MPP on the Ohio initiative, Babalis listed himself as a consultant to MPP on LinkedIn. The attacks lobbed at Wirtshafter and GRO activists all came from accounts affiliated with Green Flower Group.

Kampia declined requests to clarify or confirm Babalis’s position with MPP or its campaigns. Babalis was reached for comment in June 2017 and he initially responded that the Linkedin listing was a “mistake made by an intern” but did not remove it. One month later (and after requests for comment on the matter from Kampia), Babalis altered the listing to show he had worked with Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, not as a consultant to MPP national. Babalis, however, was not formally paid by the OMM campaign.

Shortly after Babalis was reached for comment, advertised “services” were added to the Green Flower Group Facebook page offering consulting that includes “troll combat” for $40-$50 an hour. Babalis was asked to clarify via email the work done for MPP and responded by “attacking” this author by each sock puppet account, one by one, for 12 hours straight on Twitter until all the accounts were blocked. Each “troll” built off each other’s speculative attacks and each was responded with a request for a video chat interview to confirm the source behind the statements, which no account acknowledged. After each video chat request, a new “troll” would step in.

While the attacks were occurring, an anonymous source close to Babalis reached out privately to confirm he was a one-time associate of his and that Babalis was behind most, if not all, of the accounts. The source says they worked very closely with him during No to RO and the promotion of OTEP, but felt Babalis had gone too far when the attacks were launched at other activists they had worked with at OTEP instead of RO.

In April 2016, Kampia revealed “trolling” as one of his campaign tactics on a panel titled “Anatomy of Writing and Passing Marijuana Laws” to the audience at the Students for Sensible Drug Policy (SSDP) Conference. Kampia, in the thick of the OMM campaign with Satori, immediately began by disparaging the state’s legislators, who he said they weren’t “bothering with”, although they were publicly in the process of writing their own law.

Cassie Young, and other activist volunteers from Ohio, SSDP and Michigan were in the audience that day and also confirmed Kampia’s statements. The other panelist, Sam Chapman, was reached for comment and initially agreed, but declined upon viewing the specific statements.

“I don’t trust Ohio legislators, Ohio has nasty legislators,” Kampia said. “We either ignore governors or make fun of them.”

He said that he felt the final clause of his amendment would “emasculate the legislature” by keeping them from changing the law in any way, and that when trying to run a campaign he only cared about two groups of people: anyone with money (opposition or supporter) and anyone with the ability to get in the media. He clarified that in Ohio, sick people were key to promoting the legislation, as their sad stories generated the right kind of media to paint the opposition as cruel. More pointedly, Kampia said that when fighting opposition, whether or not they were pro-cannabis, it was more important to go after individuals than groups or organizations.

“Agencies don’t have a breaking point, individuals do; you attack individuals not organizations,” Kampia explained.

Kampia said he likes to “make legislators’ lives so painful, they say, ‘screw it, not worth it’.”

Young, who heard the comments first-hand and documented them, had been experiencing personal attacks on social media since choosing to work with GRO and Wirtshafter instead of supporting MPP’s campaign.

“[It] makes me seriously question whether Rob [Kampia] has personally condoned or even supported the personal attacks being made against Don E. [Wirtshafter] and myself… since he is fond of attacking individuals who get in the media,” Young said. “Once we became Grassroots [Ohio], that’s when I was being trolled really heavily… It was something I have never dealt with before… it was scary and caused a lot of anxiety.”

Young says the experience ultimately led her and other GRO activists to step out of activism entirely.

When state legislators beat MPP to the punch and passed a medical marijuana law in May 2016, MPP pulled out immediately. Today they have refocused their efforts on Michigan in 2018 with Ohioans for Medical Marijuana campaign manager Brandon Lynaugh again at the helm. Lissa Satori has been formally hired by MPP and relocated to Michigan to work on the campaign.

Satori and Babalis are still dating, now living together, and Babalis actively volunteers his time to support her work with MPP. In April, Satori told a crowd at Michigan Hash Bash that the “money was already in the bank” for a 2018 legalization initiative and they just needed signatures. Despite this, MPP has threatened to pull the bill if significant funds aren’t donated. Satori has pressed Michigan’s medical marijuana dispensaries for funding this year and some that have rejected her have become subject to Babalis’s troll attacks. Activists working for Michigan legalization say various “enemies” of Satori or Babalis have come under the same attacks. Still, they see MPP as their only hope for marijuana law reform, because that’s where the money is.

Ohio Becomes the 26th Medical Marijuana State

At the end of May 2016, after both houses of the Ohio state government agreed on a medical marijuana bill and sent it to the governor to sign, MPP abruptly pulled out of Ohio saying the state’s legislation was “good enough” that it precluded their ballot efforts.

Kampia said the legislature’s bill had been “based on OMM’s ballot initiative” and that ultimately three things led to his decision to pull out; this was the fastest medical marijuana bill to ever move through a state legislature, Ohio’s law would be at least better than “states like Minnesota and New York”, and MPP’s internal polling confirmed they would still make the November 8 ballot if they wanted to, which Kampia said positioned them to leverage the legislature to implement the bill fairly.

Governor John Kasich signed H.B. 523 into law on June 8, 2016. A month earlier, Kasich had lost his bid for nominee of the Republican party for President of the United States. The state would finalize the rules and begin taking applications in 2017, to be fully implemented in 2018. Donald Trump, who antagonized Kasich during the primaries so much so that Kasich sat out the Republican convention in his own state, would go on to win the presidency in November. With Trump’s new attorney general Jeff Sessions at the helm, some state legal businesses are bracing themselves for a potential crackdown. Ohio’s investors, however, are “bullish”.

Concluded in Part Four.

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