COLUMBUS, Ohio — A coalition that wants to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio has filed a 129-page lawsuit against a handful of state officials in hopes that a Franklin County judge will allow voters to decide the cannabis issue at the polls in November.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol argued in its complaint that its bill – which would allow Ohioans 21 and older to buy, possess and grow marijuana, with a 10% point-of-sale tax for each transaction – should be on track. for voter approval this year, he said in his lawsuit.
But state officials have argued that lawmakers and voters should not act on the bill initiated until 2023. That includes House GOP lawyer Heather Blessing, who advises House Speaker Bob cupp.
The case is before Franklin County Common Pleas Judge Richard Frye, who released a case schedule last week indicating his ruling could come the first week of June.
In the meantime, attorneys for both sides are working on legal briefs for the case. No briefs have yet been submitted on behalf of Cupp or Senate Speaker Matt Huffman. Blessing said the policy is not to comment on pending litigation.
As part of the process of getting a law initiated on the ballot, the legislature can take the first step in creating a law based on it.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol estimates the four months began Jan. 28 and ends May 28, based on a Jan. 28 letter to the coalition from the Ohio Secretary of State, Frank LaRose, who told the coalition he was sending it to lawmakers. for their consideration.
LaRose is a defendant in the case, along with Cupp and Huffman. LaRose’s spokesperson will not comment on the matter.
But since the Republican-dominated legislature has no appetite for legalizing recreational marijuana, much of the legal action is about when voters can decide the issue. The question is not without consequences for the November elections.
Ohioans who strongly favor recreational marijuana are expected to come out in favor of the measure. They could mark ballots for other races, including Governor, State Legislature, Congress, US Senate and Ohio Supreme Court.
Although marijuana legalization has always been a progressive and libertarian issue, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol has long stated that marijuana issues no longer run along partisan lines. He does not mention any political involvement of Republicans wanting to delay the marijuana election.
Instead, it examines dollars and cents.
Brandon Lynaugh, president of Battleground Strategies, which leads the coalition’s marijuana campaign, said in an affidavit that if the legislature does not act by May 28, the campaign has until July 6 to raise a minimum of 132,887 signatures to obtain the November Election.
He is working with Advanced Micro Targeting, which is collecting signatures and providing him with a quote of at least $2.3 million.
“The relatively high fees are due to a number of factors including, but not limited to: the compressed time period for collection; the need to respect the minimums (of signatures) of at least 44 counties; the likelihood that it will be necessary to redeploy (signature collectors if there are not enough valid signatures)… the currently tight labor market; and the need to use only experienced canvassers due to lack of time to train new canvassers,” he said in the affidavit.
Additionally, Lynaugh estimated the costs of legal and accounting fees to be at least $100,000.
The Ohio Constitution outlines how citizens can pass an initiative in Sections 1b, which state that the Secretary of State must submit to the General Assembly a petition for legislation at least 10 days before the start of a session of the General Assembly if the petition has collected enough signatures during the first round of signature collection.
The second part of the current 134th session of the General Assembly began on January 3. The 135th session begins next January.
The Marijuana Coalition submitted signatures for the first time on December 20. However, LaRose’s office told the coalition that it had not reached the required number of signatures of 13,062 on January 3. LaRose gave him an additional 10 days to collect them as part of the state’s “cure”. period during which signature campaigns can fill in the gaps in the petitions they have submitted. The campaign secured the additional signatures to fill the gap by then.
The lawsuit shows an email that Blessing, the House Republican attorney, wrote on Jan. 7 to the Ohio attorney general’s office. In it, she argued that all signatures should have been submitted by the end of December and that the marijuana coalition fell short. She wrote that LaRose “must suspend transmission of the petition until the first regular session of the 135th” General Assembly, or in January 2022.
Ohio Associate Assistant Attorney General Michael Walton responded that he agreed with his interpretation, “based on a cursory examination.” Emails were also sent to LaRose’s office informing them of Blessing’s opinion.
However, the lawsuit said LaRose forwarded the petition to the General Assembly anyway, which the marijuana coalition believes is appropriate.
The coalition cites previous court decisions to support its case, although the House also uses an earlier decision to make its case.
The marijuana coalition wants Frye to declare that LaRose’s transmission of the bill was legally proper and began the four-month period for the General Assembly to consider it.
The Marijuana Coalition says that if it can’t get that statement, it wants Frye to order LaRose to resubmit the bill at the start of the 2023 legislative session, so the campaign doesn’t have to start over with its first signature collection round.
The marijuana coalition is also asking the defendants to pay its legal fees.