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March 27, 2022 Through April 2, 2022

Recreational Pot Initiated Statute Bid Prompts Legal Questions

Posted: March 28, 2022 8:00 AM

Ohioans may not get to vote on legalizing recreational marijuana this fall after all.

While a group apparently collected sufficient signatures to place an initiated statute before the legislature months ago, no administrative action has occurred regarding the proposal and GOP leaders said they are awaiting a legal opinion on whether supporters technically met the filing deadline.

Most Republicans would likely not shed a tear if the issue was scuttled for the fall elections, as the plan would likely draw more left-leaning voters to the ballot box for the all-important mid-terms that include all five statewide offices, congressional races, House contests and about half of the Senate seats.

The first round of signatures for the issue was filed by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol on Dec. 20 with Secretary of State Frank LaRose, according to his office. That filing occurred before the constitutional deadline for citizen-initiated statutes, which is 10 days prior to the start of each year's legislative session in early January.

However, a local board of election review threw out some of those signatures, forcing the group to collect more during an extension period. The next round of signatures pushed the total past the required amount, but was not submitted until Jan. 13, several days after the start of the 2022 session.

Amidst a debate over broadening the state's medical marijuana program (SB 261), Statehouse insiders have been buzzing in recent days that GOP leaders in the House and Senate are prepared to argue that the issue doesn't qualify for the Nov. 8 ballot.

House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) wouldn't go that far in an interview but acknowledged there have been discussions about the issue.

"I am waiting on a legal memo from our folks, so I can't answer the question just yet, but I might have an answer soon," he said.

Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson), sponsor of a bill (HB 382) to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, said he has heard there are efforts to thwart the measure from being placed before voters.

"It seems like they are definitely looking for ways to keep it of the ballot because it's a very popular issue that I think would pass," he said in an interview.

Under the initiated statute process, such bills are presented to the General Assembly at the beginning of each year and lawmakers then have four months to act, after which supporters of the proposed law changes are granted 90 days to collect another set of signatures that's equal to 3% of the vote total for the most recent gubernatorial elections and meets other requirements.

However, as of this week no placeholder legislation had been introduced and neither chamber had journalized the proposed statute delivered by the secretary of state's office.

The relevant text of the Ohio Constitution in part states regarding a legitimately proposed initiated statute: "When at any time, not less than ten days prior to the commencement of any session of the general assembly, there shall have been filed with the secretary of state a petition signed by three per centum of the electors and verified as herein provided, proposing a law, the full text of which shall have been set forth in such petition, the secretary of state shall transmit the same to the general assembly as soon as it convenes."

Regarding the petition process for initiatives, the constitution reads in part: "If the petitions or signatures are determined to be insufficient, ten additional days shall be allowed for the filing of additional signatures to such petition."

The constitution provides that the Ohio Supreme Court has first jurisdiction over initiative legal disputes.

Under the current requirements, the pro-recreational pot group had to submit 132,887 valid signatures to start the initiative process. If the group is forced to start from scratch next year, that total would be based on the number of voters who cast ballots in the gubernatorial contest Nov. 8.

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