A marijuana plant is in flower at a Denver cultivation facility in 2013. (Joe Amon, Denver Post file)

Lawmakers OK anti-monopoly ballot issue affecting Ohio marijuana

State lawmakers in Ohio sent a proposal to the fall ballot on Tuesday that would ban constitutional monopolies, an effort with the potential to scuttle marijuana legalization in the state.

The amended measure flew through a Senate committee and both chambers over several hours, before its language had been formally distributed or posted.

Republican Senate President Keith Faber said if the two amendments appear side-by-side on the fall ballot, the anti-monopoly measure is written to prevail.

“Look, we have great ideas. We’re trying to make sure they work the way we think they do,” Faber said earlier in the day, as negotiations and drafting stretched on for hours.

The goal of proponents is to revise Ohio’s constitution to prohibit amendments that deliver commercial economic benefits to individuals or monopolies. That language takes aim at 10 marijuana-growing sites described in a legalization question the ResponsibleOhio campaign is advancing toward November’s ballot.

The group delivered more than 695,000 petition signatures to Secretary of State Jon Husted on Tuesday, well over the number necessary to make the ballot. Husted makes the final determination on how many are valid.

Democratic election lawyer Don McTigue told the Senate committee that it is “fundamentally unfair” to Ohio voters who signed those petitions for lawmakers to place an anti-monopoly amendment alongside the legalization question that could trump even a strong yes vote.

Husted said that Ohio’s Constitution clearly states that the top vote-getter prevails when two conflicting ballot issues pass in the same election. But he also sid the anti-monopoly measure would go into effect immediately after passage and ban the growing-site system when it takes effect 30 days later.

McTigue said such an interpretation could set up years of litigation over which parts of the amendments were operative when.

Ian James, executive director of ResponsibleOhio, told reporters the campaign has raised more than $20 million and has about $16 million or $17 million left to spend.

“No matter what the Statehouse does, we’re going to make sure that we give the voters the right to decide this issue,” James said.

Maurice Thompson, director of the free market-backing 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, told the Senate panel Monday that the anti-monopoly measure as passed last week by the House violates the First Amendment and could be broadly interpreted to prohibit virtually any citizen-initiated ballot issue from veterans’ benefits to gay marriage to the minimum wage.

House Finance Chairman Ryan Smith and state Rep. Michael Curtin, a Columbus Democrat who co-sponsored the anti-monopoly resolution, issued a detailed memo to colleagues defending the measure as passed – though their chamber eventually joined the Senate in approving a new version of the resolution that eliminated the need for citizen-initiated campaigns to go to the ballot twice in order to request a constitutional monopoly.

Smith and Curtin’s memo said by targeting benefits of a “commercial economic nature,” the measure safely avoids affecting issues of women’s rights, voting rights, marital status, wages and unionization. However, the new resolution narrowed the wording further.

The Marijuana Legalization Amendment would allow adults 21 and over to purchase marijuana for medicinal or recreational use and to grow four plants for personal use. It sets up a network of 10 authorized growing locations around the state, some that have already attracted private investors, and lays out a regulatory and taxation scheme for cannabis.

Passage would make Ohio a rare state to go in a single vote from entirely outlawing marijuana to allowing it for all uses.


Associated Press writer Ann Sanner contributed to this report.