COLUMBUS — The Supreme Court of Ohio issued a slip opinion Wednesday ordering the members of the state Ballot Board to reconvene and adopt language that accurately reflects the content of a proposed amendment to the state constitution to legalize marijuana in Ohio.
ResponsibleOhio, the group leading the push for the constitutional amendment, filed the suit claiming the ballot board approved misleading language for State Issue 3 on the November 2015 ballot in order to encourage voters to vote “no” on the measure. The court agreed.
The suit also objected to the ballot title, but the court denied its claim for that.
On Aug. 18, the Ballot Board, by a three-to-two vote, adopted ballot language for Issue 3. The court stated that, by law, it could not invalidate the ballot language “unless it is such as to mislead, deceive, or defraud the voters.”
The Court opinion noted four key points in the ballot language that it deemed misleading.
1) Ballot language stated that marijuana establishments would be permitted within 1,000 feet of schools, churches and libraries when in fact the amendment prohibits this – the only exception being new schools, churches or libraries built after a certain date near where a marijuana retail establishment is already located.
2) Ballot language says persons 21 and older may transport marijuana in amounts actually prohibited by the amendment. The court opinion states, “the ballot language informs voters that the amendment would permit any person age 21 or older to grow and transport over one-half pound of marijuana plus four flowering marijuana plants. These are not accurate representations of the amendment. Under the amendment, growing up to eight ounces of marijuana plus four flowering marijuana plants is permitted only by persons holding valid state licenses, and even those persons are not permitted to transport the marijuana.”
3) Ballot language omits critical facts concerning retail establishments selling marijuana and marijuana-infused products. “(I)t omits two critical facts concerning retail establishments selling marijuana and marijuana-infused products: (1) that such retail establishments must have a state license and (2) that a license may be obtained only if the electors of the precinct where the store will be located approve the use of the location for such purpose at a local option election, which means local residents can veto the operation of such a business in their neighborhood.”
4) Ballot language misleads the public by omitting that additional grow facilities will be permitted after four years only if the initial 10 facilities cannot meet consumer demand.
“(T)he Ballot Board’s ballot language inaccurately states pertinent information and omits essential information. 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 opinion stated.
Justices Maureen O’Connor, Paul Pfeifer, Sharon Kennedy and Judith French concurred in the opinion. Justice Judith Lanzinger concurred in judgment only. Justice Willliam O’Neill concurred in part and dissented in part, and would grant the writs as to Secretary of State Jon Husted and the Ballot Board and direct them to adopt the neutral, factually correct language as approved by Michael DeWine, the Attorney General of Ohio. Justice Terrence O’Donnell dissented and would deny the writs.
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