Supporters of a plan to legalize marijuana in Ohio have another enemy besides skeptical voters: Issue 2, which looks to ban monopolies from being written into the state constitution. But opponents of Issue 2 say it could have other consequences.
Every state allows its state lawmakers to put issues on the ballot. But only 22 states allow citizens the right to try to put an issue on the ballot to change state law and even the state constitution. Ohio is one of them.
Mike Brickner with the ACLU supports this process as a way for voters to take the law into their own hands when state leaders aren’t doing what they want.
“They have a right to go to the ballot and do it themselves. Really it’s the most pure form of democracy,” said Brickner.
But Democratic Representative Mike Curtin of Columbus helped draft Issue 2 because he says the citizen initiative process has been sullied.
“We’re seeing more and more attempts for deep-pocketed interests to use the initiative for a purpose it was never attended for,” said Curtin.
That purpose Curtin is talking about is to create monopolies. He says the gambling industry did it a few years ago by changing the constitution to allow casinos, but only four and run by only two operators. And Curtin says wealthy investors are once-again trying to take advantage of the process with this year’s attempt to legalize marijuana but only allowing 10 growing sites.
Issue 2 would ban such monopolies in the constitution. It would also give a panel of lawmakers, known as the Ballot Board, control over the definition of a monopoly. So if an initiative gets to that board and it’s ruled a monopoly, then voters would see two proposals on the ballot. The first vote would be whether or not to suspend the anti-monopoly law and the second vote would be on the initiative itself.
Supporters of Issue 2 says the premise behind it had been discussed a while back by the panel that’s been looking at the state constitution, the Constitutional Modernization Commission. But the actual legislation that put Issue 2 before voters was proposed and passed in two weeks this summer. That has led many to say that lawmakers rushed to put Issue 2 on the ballot to counteract Issue 3. However, Republican Senate President Keith Faber of Celina argues that the measure is simple.
“This language says, if you’re trying to get a commercial fiat, right or privilege that is unique and not available to all other Ohioans—don’t come looking to buy the Ohio constitution,” said Faber.
But it’s not that simple to groups like the ACLU. Brickner fears Issue 2 could go too far and possibly interfere with the rights of any citizen who wants to put a measure on the ballot.
“I think the speculation could be endless that unions, any type of corporation, anybody who where a court or the ballot board could construe that there is some sort of financial benefit, they may say that that group cannot bring that ballot initiative or has to go through this extra hurdle,” Brickner said.
The liberal-leaning advocacy group Common Cause Ohio agrees and also worries that Issue 2 gives too much power to the ballot board which is currently controlled by the Republicans. Common Cause’s Sam Gresham says the proposal is another example of how lawmakers are chipping away at the electoral process and the citizen initiative system.
“If this system is taken away from us then democracy in Ohio will be fatally flawed and it would be much more difficult for citizens to believe in the system,” said Gresham.
“There’s been a lot of falsehoods and the Common Cause press release contain many,” Curtin claimed.
Curtin fires back at Common Cause’ opposition and questions that been raised about how the issue could affect activists if a so-called “right to work” bill passes. He says there’s no way organizations such as unions will be affected by Issue 2. To calm any fears, Curtin urges people to just read the amendment—echoing Faber’s message that the issue is simple.
“The amendment does one thing and one thing only, it makes it very difficult for people that want to create an economic exclusive, commercial economic exclusives to get it done, it does nothing other than that,” Curtin said.
Along with its anti-monopoly language, Issue 2 includes lines that directly counter Issue 3, such as banning any initiative on November’s ballot that legalizes a Schedule 1 controlled substance, such as marijuana, from taking effect.