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Marijuana Amendment Backer Aiming At Lawmakers Who Want To Change The Ballot Process

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As state lawmakers talk about changing the process by which groups with economic interests in changing the Ohio constitution can bring amendments to voters, one of those groups is planning another amendment that hits back at those legislators. 

Ohio Public Radio's Karen Kasler reports.

In 2009, a constitutional amendment to allow casino gambling passed in Ohio after three previous attempts to legalize expanded gambling failed with voters. But like the other gambling issues before it, this amendment not only legalized a previously illegal activity, but specified exactly where it would occur – in this case, at four casinos with locations that are permanently part of the state constitution. That’s bothered Republican Senate President Keith Faber (R-Celina) for a while. And he says those concerns were brought back with a multi-billion dollar bond issue on green energy that didn’t come with a lot of information about its backers. And Faber said those worries were recently resurrected with the proposal from the group ResponsibleOhio that would put the legalization of marijuana, along with 10 growing sites, before voters. “We have been working for about the last 18 months on trying to address this issue about private property rights being enshrined in the constitution,\” said Faber. \"For many of us had great concerns when it happened with casinos, and we had suggestions for green energy folks trying to put a multi-billion dollar money grab into the constitution, we had more concerns. Now with this proposal for marijuana, I have even more concerns.”

Faber, House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville), and Auditor David Yost have all said they’re bothered by entrepreneurs creating constitutional amendments that benefit their interests – as Yost has said, “The Constitution shouldn’t be somebody’s paycheck.” They say they want a higher threshold for these groups to meet – for instance, two separate ballot issues, one to legalize the activity and another that would include specifics that would benefit the backers, such as locations for the activity to take place. And they’ve said they want change to happen sooner rather than later. On Thursday lawmakers and others on the Constitutional Modernization Commission will look at a proposal to change the process for groups with economic interests in an issue to put an amendment on the ballot. And if it moves fast enough, could make it through the legislature and to voters this year. Rep. Mike Curtin is a Democrat from Columbus and is also opposed to the ResponsibleOhio marijuana legalization amendment, and says he’s fine with both that amendment and the amendment to change the process on the ballot at the same time. “I think there’s a great likelihood that the marijuana monopoly and the anti-monopoly amendment will be on the ballot at the same time,\” Curtin said. \"And I think that’s a good thing because it would require the backers of the marijuana monopoly amendment to talk about the real issue. The real issue here is not marijuana. The real issue here is creating a monopoly in our state constitution.”

Ian James is with ResponsibleOhio. He says the timing of this discussion suggests that lawmakers who oppose the legalization of marijuana are threatened by the possibility that ResponsibleOhio’s amendment will pass. So he’s proposing an issue for next year to fire back at them. James said, \"That constitutional amendment is going to say, for the legislature, if you, you are a part time work, you are going to get part time pay. Legislators should be paid the same as part-time workers. There’s going to be no perks for part time, because this amendment will strip legislators of full-time pay and perks like health care and pensions.”

And there’s more – James says he wants to, in his words, close the revolving door between the Ohio House and Ohio Senate. “Term limits used to and need to mean something,\” said James. \"This hopscotching back and forth from one chamber to the next is going to end. So under this constitutional amendment, it’s going to say, ‘Hey, folks, if you -you can serve for four terms in the House and two in the Senate, but then you gotta be out for three years. Gotta stay out and you gotta go find work.”

James says he expects pushback from lawmakers, but says he plans to launch the petition drive soon.

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