GALLIPOLIS — Issue 2 is being called the “anti-monopoly amendment” by state legislators who put it on the Nov. 3 ballot. Opponents say it will strip away some of the rights of voters.
The amendment prohibits any petitioner from using the Ohio Constitution to grant a monopoly for their exclusive financial benefit or to establish a preferential tax status. It also sets up a two-step process for future amendments, with a five-member Ohio Ballot Board having the power to decide which proposed constitutional amendments reach the higher hurdles.
The timing of Issue 2 is critical, proponents acknowledge. It was placed on the upcoming ballot to thwart Issue 3, the citizen-initiated constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for recreational and medical uses.
A court battle will no doubt be set up if both Issue 2 and Issue 3 pass. That’s because the language in the initiative to legalize marijuana grants 10 sites the exclusive rights to grow all the marijuana that would be sold in Ohio. Those sites have already been determined by ResponsibleOhio, which is heading up the legalization efforts. To become one of those sites, a $2 million donation was required to ResponsibleOhio’s campaign efforts. No state bidding was required.
State Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, said during a GOP rally last week in Gallia County that he is encouraging people to vote “yes” on Issue 2 “to protect our Constitution” and “no” on Issue 3, the ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Ohio much like it is in Colorado and Washington state.
During the GOP rally, Smith said, “It’s extremely important that … we (vote) yes on (Issue) 2 to protect our Constitution and no on (Issue) 3. It’s not just about (marijuana) legalization. It’s also about monopoly (prevention).”
Smith added that, with all the issues with drugs in southeast Ohio, he doesn’t understand why constituents would want to add to the drug problem.
Ohio Senate President Keith Faber says it’s shameful to try to pass a constitutional amendment to make money.
“The pot cartel is trying to put a monopoly on the sale and distribution in the state constitution,” Faber said.
ResponsibleOhio spokeswoman Faith Oltman denies the claim.
“What we’re setting up is the entire industry,” Oltman said. “We want to implement a strict regulatory framework to start out with 10 growers, initially, and the state has the ability to add more licenses as time goes on.”
The head of Ohio Common Cause, an independent watchdog organization, said his group hates the idea of a monopoly. Even worse though, he said, is to hurt the ability of citizens to enact public policy changes when politicians won’t. In that regard, he called Issue 2 a “poison pill for direct democracy,” noting the state legislature has failed to consider legislation to legalize marijuana for nearly 20 years.
“It’s no surprise that some of the most important political reforms in our nation’s history have been adopted through the citizen’s initiative,” Gresham said in a written statement. “Oftentimes these initiatives are opposed by some career politicians, even though they serve the public interest.”
Faber argued that is not the case.
The Republican from Celina said Issue 2 actually gives voters more control to decide whether a monopoly should be allowed in the future. He said ResponsibleOhio is just trying to use the anti-politician sentiment to drum up support.
Faber also said the state legislature has addressed the marijuana issue by decriminalizing the use of marijuana. For example, a person caught with one marijuana cigarette is subject to the same fine as a speeding ticket, he said.
But Oltman said it’s still a hefty fine and it occurs every time that person is caught.
“It doesn’t make it legal. It’s still very much illegal,” she said.
Greg Sowinski and Jim Krumel work at The Lima News. Reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org and email@example.com