Pot Group Goes to High Court to Change Ohio's Legalization Ballot Language

by | August 28, 2015

By Alan Johnson

The Ohio Supreme Court has a short timetable to decide an appeal filed on Thursday challenging state-approved wording on Issue 3, a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana.

Attorney Andy Douglas, a former Supreme Court justice, filed an appeal on behalf of ResponsibleOhio accusing Secretary of State Jon Husted and the Ballot Board -- which includes Senate President Keith Faber -- of intentionally trying to "mislead, deceive or defraud voters" in how Issue 3 is worded for the Nov. 3 ballot. The issue would legalize marijuana for use those 21 or older and medicinal marijuana for those with documented medical conditions.

The expedited schedule will require all filings and counter-filings to be submitted in about two weeks, sending it to the court for a decision by mid-September. The court must move quickly because the ballot must be finalized and printed before Oct. 6, when Ohioans begin voting in person and by mail.

Douglas' 40-page complaint had scathing comments about Husted and the Ballot Board, which is controlled 3-2 by Republicans. He said the board's action on wording is "fatal to the validity of the ballot." He complained about prejudicial language, deliberate omissions and outright falsehoods and asked the court to order the board to re-do the language, or accept a full summary approved in March by Attorney General Mike DeWine.

The appeal cites numerous examples of alleged problems, including one implying that Ohioans could transport and purchase a half-pound of marijuana "as if it was a rolling dispensary or store selling marijuana, something ripe for a 30-second television commercial." The amendment does allow individuals to purchase 1 ounce of pot and, separately, to grow and possess up to 8 ounces in a secure location at home.

Douglas attacked inclusion of the word "recreational" in reference for use by those 21 or older for nonmedicinal purposes. He said recreational appears nowhere in the full amendment and is prejudicial and misleading. The appeal also took Husted to task for using "monopoly" in the Issue 3 title, a phrase opponents use in their criticism of the proposal.

"These may be the most disingenuous and untruthful assertions by public officials that I've ever seen in my long career," Douglas said in an interview.

Husted, who has made no secret of his opposition to the proposal, released a statement in response.

"I have an obligation as the state's chief elections officer to make sure Ohioans understand the decision before them when they enter the voting booth. There is no better way to describe State Issue 3 than to say it is a monopoly that grants exclusive rights to a certain group of people -- rights that would not be afforded to every other Ohioan." Husted said. "The backers of State Issue 3 could have easily prevented Ohioans from calling their plan a marijuana monopoly by choosing to not write their plan as a marijuana monopoly."

Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies said in a statement that the language written by the Ballot Board "fairly and accurately summarizes Issue 3 for Ohio voters.

Dispatch reporter Randy Ludlow contributed to this story.

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