State, ResponsibleOhio still sparring over sigs

Posted at 9:29 PM, Sep 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-09-15 21:29:36-04

Ohio’s elections chief and legal marijuana advocates are continuing to trade blows in recent weeks over the statewide ballot issue that would legalize recreational and medicinal marijuana. 

Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted has been faced with lawsuits in response to his hiring of a special prosecutor to investigate possible signature fraud in the petitions ResponsibleOhio used to get issue 3 onto the statewide ballot.

Last week, Husted dropped some of those subpoenas after he was faced with a federal lawsuit a from an outside third-party, but then quickly replaced one. His office alleges there’s reason to believe signatures were fraudulently gathered when ResponsibleOhio sought to put the issue on the November ballot.

“There are major discrepancies between what ResponsibleOhio told us they did and what they actually did,” Husted said. “The reason for the investigation is to determine if this was a mistake or whether there was intent to commit fraud.”

ResponsibleOhio Executive Director Ian James is quick to criticize any allegations of signature fraud. He said Husted, who he calls Vladimir Husted, has wasted taxpayer dollars with these “shenanigans.”

“[The subpoena] was a clear violation of our first amendment rights to association and affiliation,” James said. “Vladimir Husted’s McCarthy-esque witch-hunt is a shameless attempt at self-promotion at the tax payer’s expense.”

The subpoenas are just one of many skirmishes over ResponsibleOhio's attempts to get the issue on the ballot. Last month, ResponsibleOhio sued the state over this language, which will appear on voter's ballots in November: “Grants a monopoly for the commercial production and sale of marijuana for recreational and medicinal purposes.”

James said the Secretary of State is trying to influence voters with the word monopoly. But Husted said he is simply calling it like is.

“We have an obligation to provide a clear and concise summary of a proposed constitutional amendment that, at 6,600 words, is so large that it would account for 10 percent of the entire constitution should the voters approve it,” Secretary Husted said in a release.

Throughout this fight, Husted has stood by his investigations, saying he was backed up by his legal obligations.

“Everyone has the responsibility to follow the law. You can’t just cry victim and do whatever you want,” Husted said. “We’re simply requiring them to follow the law like everyone else.

But not everyone agrees with that justification.

Cincinnati investor Frank Wood

Cincinnati business investor Frank Wood, an investor into one of those 10 marijuana growers initially allotted by the ballot issue, is insistent that “monopoly” is a misnomer, and that it’s not simply a legal issue.

Wood said that he thinks Husted made these calls as a calculated political decision.

“He’s been more than a stickler—he’s lying,” Wood said. “He finds it to be a great battle tactic; call it something it isn’t and hope that the Supreme Court will be too busy to deal with it so we’ll be stuck with calling it a monopoly on the ballot.”

As for the limited number of growers, Wood emphasized the reasoning was to improve regulation and maintain safety standards. And, he said, the number of growers could be increased – or reduced.

“It’s written right into the statute. After a certain number of years, if there’s not enough product, the Marijuana Control Commission, which hasn’t been created yet, could add one then more down the line,” Wood said. “And if you do something wrong, you can lose your license, too.”

James agreed. He said he believes that these issues will be sorted out in court.

“If Husted is doing his job, that’s one thing. When he’s playing politics at the taxpayers’ expense, that’s quite another,” James said. “There’s a reason these issues are at the Ohio Supreme Court; there’s a reason he’s been called down to the federal court in Cincinnati. He’s violating the law.” 

Despite opposition from the statehouse, James and ResponsibleOhio remain optimistic that issue 3 will pass, even if only because they feel they are on the right side of history.

Ben Postlethwait is a fellow in the E.W. Scripps School of Journalism Statehouse News Bureau. You can reach him via email or follow him on Twitter @BCPostlethwait