A budtender at 3-D Denver Discreet Dispensary picks up a nugget of Sour Diesel in December 2013. (Denver Post file)

Ohio legalization ballot wording OK’d, but ResponsibleOhio has objections

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Ballot Board approved language Tuesday for a fall ballot issue that seeks to legalize marijuana and another aimed at extinguishing that plan, and supporters of the pot proposal threatened a court challenge.

ResponsibleOhio, the group that brought the marijuana legalization question before voters, said the ballot wording for its proposal is misleading and biased against the issue. Among other concerns, the group’s attorney objected to the use of “recreational” in the description. But opponents of the plan contend the phrasing is fair.

Passage of the proposed constitutional amendment Nov. 3 would make Ohio a rare state to go from entirely outlawing marijuana to allowing it for all uses in a single vote.

Under the proposal, adults 21 and older could purchase marijuana for medicinal or other use and grow four plants for personal use. It creates 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.

Don McTigue, an attorney for ResponsibleOhio, opposed the board-approved language that described the legalization proposal as permitting the sale of “recreational” marijuana. He argued that the word “recreational” was not in the proposed amendment, while the phrase “personal use” was. He suggested “recreational” was chosen based on unfavorable polling.

“We don’t say recreational smoking of cigarettes,” McTigue told the board.

He also took issue with a description of where marijuana facilities would be permitted and how much marijuana people could purchase.

State Rep. Kathleen Clyde of Kent joined her other Democratic colleague in voting against the ballot wording, saying it was neither accurate nor impartial. Clyde said use of the word recreational “crosses into editorializing about the amendment.”

Secretary of State Jon Husted, the board’s Republican chairman, said “recreational” helps to distinguish between marijuana used for medicinal purposes.

“This is the common term used,” he said.

Jennifer Redman, a ResponsibleOhio spokeswoman, said she believed flaws in the wording were meant to scare voters and the group would challenge the language in the Ohio Supreme Court.

“I think it’s important to fight for the truth, to have fair and honest wording go on to the ballot for the summary so voters know what to expect in November,” Redman said.

Husted said the board tried to give a fair review of the proposal, so voters would know the relevant parts of the amendment.

“In the end, I think the voters in Ohio are going to clearly know what they’re voting for,” he said. “They are either going to vote to legalize a marijuana monopoly in this state or they’re going to vote to reject it.”

The Ballot Board approved ballot language for a proposal that seeks to ban monopolies and cartels from being added to Ohio’s constitution, in effect taking aim at the 10 sites described in the proposed marijuana legalization amendment.

If approved, the measure would prohibit other constitutional amendments that “grant a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel, specify or determine a tax rate, or confer a commercial interest, right, or license to any person or nonpublic entity.”

Husted has 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 said if voters approve both, the anti-monopoly measure would go into effect immediately and serve as a roadblock to the marijuana amendment when it takes effect 30 days later.

The board also cleared ballot phrasing for a third proposal, which would change the way the state draws its legislative districts.

Husted announced the lineup of the issues on the ballot: The redistricting proposal will be Issue 1; the so-called anti-monopoly measure will be Issue 2; and the marijuana initiative will be Issue 3.

Online: Issue 3 ballot language