Senators delay vote on anti-monopoly item aimed at pot


COLUMBUS — State lawmakers scrambled Tuesday to address warnings from lawyers across the political spectrum that an effort to ban monopolies from Ohio’s constitution would have legal consequences far beyond scuttling a marijuana legalization effort this fall.

The powerful Senate Rules & Reference Committee was forced to defer its vote after two days of hearings and hours of negotiations failed to result in an acceptable compromise. The panel planned to convene after a floor session Tuesday afternoon, with the potential for deliberations to stretch into the evening.

“Look, we have great ideas. We’re trying to make sure they work the way we think they do,” said Senate President Keith Faber, an attorney from Celina who chairs the panel.

The goal of proponents is to revise Ohio’s constitution to prohibit amendments that deliver commercial economic benefits to individuals or monopolies. That language takes aim at 10 marijuana-growing sites described in a legalization question the ResponsibleOhio campaign is advancing toward November’s ballot.

The group was delivering more than 550,000 petition signatures to Secretary of State Jon Husted on Tuesday, well over the number necessary to make the ballot. Husted makes the final determination on how many are valid.

Democratic election lawyer Don McTigue told the Senate committee that it is “fundamentally unfair” to Ohio voters who signed those petitions for lawmakers to place an anti-monopoly amendment alongside the legalization question that could trump even a strong yes vote.

Husted says that Ohio’s Constitution clearly states that the top vote-getter prevails when two conflicting ballot issues pass in the same election. But he also says the anti-monopoly measure would go into effect immediately after passage and ban the growing-site system when it takes effect 30 days later.

McTigue said such an interpretation could set up years of litigation over which parts of the amendments were operative when.

Maurice Thompson, director of the free market-backing 1851 Center for Constitutional Law, told the Senate panel Monday that the anti-monopoly measure as passed last week by the House violates the First Amendment and could be broadly interpreted to prohibit virtually any citizen-initiated ballot issue from veterans’ benefits to gay marriage to the minimum wage.

House Finance Chairman Ryan Smith and state Rep. Michael Curtin, a Columbus Democrat who co-sponsored the anti-monopoly resolution, issued a detailed memo to colleagues defending the measure as passed. They wrote that by targeting benefits of a “commercial economic nature,” the measure safely avoids affecting issues of women’s rights, voting rights, marital status, wages and unionization.

“It is not intended to prevent the use of the constitutional initiative for issues that have nothing to do with monopolies or commercial advantage for the few,” the memo said.

Opponents urged lawmakers not to rush, but it appeared likely they would act on some proposal later Tuesday. The final resolution must clear both chambers by a three-fifths majority by Aug. 5 to make the November ballot.

The Marijuana Legalization Amendment would allow adults 21 and over to purchase marijuana for medicinal or recreational use and to grow four plants for personal use. It sets up a network of 10 authorized growing locations around the state, some that have already attracted private investors, and lays out a regulatory and taxation scheme for cannabis.

Passage would make Ohio a rare state to go in a single vote from entirely outlawing marijuana to allowing it for all uses.

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