Pubdate: Sun, 02 Aug 2015
Source: Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Copyright: 2015 The Columbus Dispatch
Author: Alan Johnson


Words Matter, Especially on Statewide Ballot Issues.

Assuming that ResponsibleOhio's marijuana legalization constitutional 
amendment qualifies for the ballot - which seems likely given the 
95,572 supplemental signatures the group submitted on Thursday - next 
up is a crucial stop at the Ohio Ballot Board.

The five-member board, chaired by Secretary of State Jon Husted and 
controlled 3-2 by Republicans, will meet later this month to work out 
the specific language Ohio voters will see on three statewide issues on Nov. 3.

In addition to the marijuana amendment, there will be an 
anti-monopoly amendment and a legislative-restricting amendment, both 
coming from the General Assembly.

The wording task must be done by Aug. 25, when the final form of the 
Nov. 3 ballot is completed.

The key word to watch for when language is approved is "monopoly." If 
monopoly or another word with a similar connotation of exclusiveness 
is included in the ballot wording, Responsible Ohio's campaign 
becomes that much harder this fall.

One criticism of ResponsibleOhio is that the legalized marijuana 
market - at least the growing and processing part it - would be 
controlled exclusively by a group of 10 wealthy investors who will 
spend upward of $20 million on the campaign. Some label the plan a 
monopoly or a cartel, even though individuals could grow a small 
number of marijuana plants at home.

Curt Steiner, a Columbus political consultant and former chief of 
staff for Gov. George V. Voinovich, engineered wording that helped 
sink a 2002 statewide ballot initiative for treatment in lieu of 
incarceration for drug offenders. Now working with a coalition 
opposing the marijuana amendment, Steiner said ballot language will 
again play a significant role this year.

"It's important for voters to know this business would be controlled 
by a select few investors who would be locked into the constitution," 
Steiner said. "That's what we hear as the major objection to this 
amendment. I would certainly hope the ballot board would take that 
into consideration."

Most people won't read the full text of a long, involved amendment, 
Steiner predicted. "That's an awful lot for people to take in."

ResponsibleOhio Executive Director Ian James said critics such as 
Steiner are looking for gimmicks instead of alternatives.

"They want to continue to pursue a failed policy of trying to 
prohibit something that is now legal in 23 states," James said. "This 
means Ohio misses out on potential tax dollars, new jobs and new businesses.

"The opponents to responsible legalization are willing to surrender 
our streets to the drug dealers. We are not."

Back in 2002, Steiner and company managed to insert a big cost figure 
for drug treatment ($247 million) into the first sentence of the 
ballot language.

That maneuver alone might have doomed the issue, proponents later 
acknowledged. The amendment had nearly two-thirds support in early 
polls, but that flipped and it lost by roughly the same margin on Election Day.

"Seeing a dollar amount in the first line of the summary, many voters 
who were unfamiliar with the Initiative may have felt that it 
proposed a tax increase," a 2004 Cleveland State Law Review article 
said. "This language, alone, may have defeated the Initiative, as 
voters are very reluctant to raise taxes."

Ballot language also played a role in 2006 when Ohio Learn and Earn, 
a group pushing a plan for slot machines at racetracks and in 
downtown Cleveland, saw its chances shrink at the ballot board.

Although proceeds from the gambling plan were earmarked for college 
scholarships, the ballot board, then led by Republican Secretary of 
State J. Kenneth Blackwell, inserted language over the strong 
objections of opponents saying the program would be overseen by the 
Ohio Board of Regents, a government agency. Voters soundly rejected 
the proposal.
- ---
MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom