Marijuana plants take in the light at a Minnesota Medical Solutions greenhouse in Otsego, Minn., on May 5, 2015. (Glen Stubbe, Star Tribune via AP)

Ohio Supreme Court orders ballot rewrite on marijuana legalization

COLUMBUS, Ohio — Ohio’s Supreme Court ruled Wednesday that part of the ballot wording describing a proposal to legalize marijuana in the state is misleading and ordered a state board to rewrite it.

Supporters of the measure, known in the fall election as Issue 3, challenged the phrasing of the ballot language and title, arguing certain descriptions were inaccurate and intentionally misleading to voters. Attorneys for the state’s elections chief, a vocal opponent of the proposal, had said the nearly 500-word ballot language was fair.

In a split decision, the high court sided with the pot supporters in singling out four paragraphs of the ballot language it said “inaccurately states pertinent information and omits essential information.”

The court ordered the state’s Ballot Board to reconvene to replace those paragraphs about where and how retail stores can open, the amount of marijuana a person can grow and transport and the potential for additional growing facilities.

“The cumulative effect of these defects in the ballot language is fatal because the ballot language fails to properly identify the substance of the amendment, a failure that misleads voters,” the court said.

The court allowed the ballot issue’s title, “Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes,” to stand in a blow to the backers who had taken issue with the use of the word “monopoly.”

Passage of Issue 3 would make Ohio a rare state to go from outlawing marijuana to allowing it for all uses in one vote.

The full text of the proposed constitutional amendment has nearly 6,600 words. It would allow anyone 21 and older to buy marijuana for medicinal or personal use and grow four plants. It creates a network of 10 authorized growing locations, some that already have attracted a celebrity-studded list of private investors, and lays out a regulatory and taxation scheme.

The court’s decision has no impact on whether the pot initiative will appear before voters in the Nov. 3 election, just how it reads. The decision comes as overseas and military absentee ballots are expected to be sent Saturday. Early voting begins Oct. 6.

The ballot language was approved by a majority of the state’s Ballot Board on Aug. 18. The panel’s chairman, Secretary of State Jon Husted, set the title.

ResponsibleOhio, which brought the proposal before voters, then challenged its ballot wording in court.

Among other arguments, the group had said the title of Issue 3 contained loaded language because it states the proposal “grants a monopoly” for marijuana production. ResponsibleOhio contends the proposal doesn’t establish a monopoly because more than one producer will be involved in the commercial market.

Husted has said there’s no better way to describe the proposal than a monopoly, as it grants to a certain group of people exclusive rights that aren’t afforded to all.

The court said the title was not misleading, inaccurate or “persuasive in nature.”

Each side claimed victory in the ruling.

“Ballot language must be neutral and fair, and today’s ruling is a slap to the Secretary of State for waging a political campaign from his elected office, using taxpayer dollars,” ResponsibleOhio’s executive director, Ian James, said in a statement.

Husted said in a statement he would convene the Ballot Board this week.

“Today, the Ohio Supreme Court agreed with me, the dictionary, common sense and many news publications across our state that State Issue 3 would create a marijuana monopoly in Ohio and that the voters deserve to be given that information before casting their ballots,” he said.

Online: Issue 3 ballot language