Wednesday, August 19, 2015

Does exact ballot language really matter much in Ohio 2015 vote for marijuana legalization?

The question in the title of this post is prompted by the latest legal battle brewing in Ohio now just a matter of weeks before voters will be voting on a controversial marijuana reform initiative.   This local article, headlined "ResponsibleOhio to challenge marijuana legalization ballot language in court," sets out the recent development and basic terms of debate:

The marijuana legalization issue will appear as Issue 3 on Ohio ballots this November, but the group backing the issue plans to challenge the approved ballot language at the Ohio Supreme Court.

The Ohio Ballot Board, a five-member bipartisan panel led by Secretary of State Jon Husted, on Tuesday approved the language for that issue along party lines, with the two Democratic members voting against. "It's not balanced language and we believe that the language does not fairly inform the voters on what they're being asked to vote upon," Don McTigue, an attorney for ResponsibleOhio, said after the ballot board meeting.

McTigue said the language approved Tuesday is misleading and politically motivated, pointing to dozens of places where the language either adds or omits provisions of the proposed amendment.

For example, the approved language says "recreational use;" McTigue preferred "personal use." And one paragraph could be construed as allowing Ohioans to buy more than a half pound of marijuana (the limit is 1 ounce but Ohioans could possess up to 8 ounces of homegrown marijuana.)

ResponsibleOhio's proposed personal and medical marijuana amendment would legalize marijuana use and sales, with commercial cannabis grown only at 10 sites already promised to campaign investors. State lawmakers didn't like that aspect of the issue, so they drafted their own amendment to try to block ResponsibleOhio's marijuana issue.

Husted set the tone for Tuesday's meeting by welcoming everyone to "Monopoly Day in Ohio" -- whether to outlaw them or grant a new one.

Ohioans will vote on three statewide issues Nov. 3:

Issue 1: Redistricting reform amendment

Issue 2: Anti-monopoly amendment

Issue 3: Marijuana legalization amendment

All three require a majority "yes" vote to adopt the amendment. But if Issue 2 and Issue 3 both pass, the matter will likely be resolved at the Ohio Supreme Court.

Husted's office drafted ballot language for each issue after meeting with interested parties. Supporters and opponents were given an opportunity Tuesday to persuade the ballot board toward more favorable language, but the final decision rested with the board. Husted said groups would prefer to use language that polls well, but the ballot board aims to give voters the facts about the issues.

ResponsibleOhio plans to spend upwards of $20 million to win at the ballot box, aggressively advertising its plan and targeting supporters to register to vote and cast ballots.

Opponents of Issue 3 -- a coalition of physicians, law enforcement officials, and business groups -- will tell voters legalization will flood the state with marijuana, causing children to be harmed by ingesting it. The coalition, Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies, is banking on its broad and diverse network instead of campaign contributions to spread its message.

For a variety of reasons, I am disinclined to weigh in substantively on the (court-bound?) debate over the precise language that will appear on the ballot when Ohioans are to vote of the ResponsibleOhio proposal for marijuana reform. But, as the question in the title of this post highlights, the broader question is whether it really matters much, especially in an "off-off year" election, what the exact ballot language says about the basic marijuana reform issue voters will be considering.

Presumably, most voters showing up to vote in an "off-off year" election already have formed an opinion on the highest-profile initiative under consideration, and so I am not sure this squabble over ballot language will, in the end, matter all that much as the votes are to be cast.  I suppose we will know in just a few months just how all this shakes out.

Campaigns, elections and public officials concerning reforms, Initiative reforms in states, Recreational Marijuana Commentary and Debate, Recreational Marijuana State Laws and Reforms, Who decides | Permalink


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