Pubdate: Wed, 17 Jun 2015
Source: Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Copyright: 2015 The Columbus Dispatch
Author: Alan Johnson


State lawmakers are rushing to throw a constitutional obstacle in the 
path of supporters of a marijuana legalization campaign.

The plan rolled out on Tuesday is backed by top legislative leaders, 
but critics say it may go too far in trying to derail the fast-moving 
marijuana plan engineered by the group ResponsibleOhio.

House Joint Resolution 4 received a hearing on Tuesday, just hours 
after being introduced by state Reps. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, and Mike 
Curtin, D-Marble Cliff. It would make it harder, but not impossible, 
for a "monopoly or special economic interest" to submit a proposed 
amendment to the Ohio Constitution.

ResponsibleOhio's marijuana-legalization proposal, which seems likely 
to be on the Nov. 3 ballot, is not mentioned in the bipartisan 
resolution, but it is clearly the target. The pot proposal would give 
individuals and groups that invest in the campaign a monopoly to 
establish 10 for-profit, marijuana-growing sites across the state.

Smith testified to the Ohio House Government Accountability and 
Oversight Committee on Tuesday that his and Curtin's proposal would 
prevent "self-serving monopolies" like ResponsibleOhio from easily 
accessing the constitution for economic benefit. Not acting, Smith 
said, would be a "tremendous moral failure and injustice to the 
citizens of this great state."

Curtin said the proposal, which would require a two-step, multiyear 
process for economic-based amendments, would combat the "growing and 
worrisome trend" of allowing monopolies to gain access to "the 
bedrock of our state constitution."

The legislature has until Aug. 3 to place issues on the fall ballot, 
but lawmakers must move more quickly because they plan to recess for 
the summer at the end of June once the biennial budget is passed.

Rep. Kathleen Clyde, D-Kent, expressed concern at Tuesday's hearing 
about the "broadness of the language" of the resolution and how other 
ballot issues might be caught up in it in the future if it passes.

That complaint was echoed by Douglas Berman, an Ohio State University 
law professor who teaches a course in marijuana law. He said there 
are fundamental problems with the approach, including whether it is 
"constitutional to pass a constitutional amendment restricting your 
ability to pass a constitutional amendment."

"The effort to block it this way strikes me as the worst of all 
possible worlds," Berman added. "If they're against the substantive 
policy in this amendment, why not go out and campaign against it 
rather than force voters to attack the messenger through a new 
constitutional rule?"

The Smith-Curtin plan would ask Ohioans to vote to "prohibit an 
initiated constitutional amendment that would grant a monopoly or a 
special economic interest, privilege, benefit, right, or license to 
any person or entity and to modify the procedure to propose a law or 
a constitutional amendment by initiative petition."

Monopoly interests would have to first seek voter approval at one 
election to bypass the economic-interest ban, and then pursue a 
second vote later on the issue itself.

ResponsibleOhio Executive Director Ian James said in a statement that 
state lawmakers have long "stalled on an issue that the majority of 
Ohioans now support. These politicians trusted the voters enough to 
elect them, but when faced with an issue they disagree with, 
lawmakers want to deny voters the right to decide. No other state has 
done this; no other state has passed a constitutional amendment to 
limit voters' rights."

Attorney Steven H. Steinglass, former dean of the Cleveland-Marshall 
College of Law, said the Ohio Constitution dictates that if two 
"contradictory" issues appear on the same ballot and both are 
approved, the one with the most votes prevails. He said that happened 
just once previously, in 1918.

Steinglass, an adviser to the Ohio Constitutional Modernization 
Commission, said the interaction of the two issues if both make it on 
the ballot is legally complicated. He said it's possible that if both 
issues pass, a court could rule that marijuana is legal in Ohio, but 
would not be limited to monopoly ownership.

The proposal is similar to one suggested last month by state Auditor 
Dave Yost. He said the Smith-Curtin proposal would "keep the fingers 
of moneyed special interests out of the constitution and give the 
initiative process back to the people."

Senate President Keith Faber, R-Celina, and House Speaker Cliff 
Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, both signaled support for the resolution.

Dispatch Reporter Jim Siegel contributed to this story.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom