State issues 1, 2, 3 got national attention

It’s probably no surprise that Ohio’s state ballot issues were much in the minds this week of people outside of the state, as political observers, pundits and policymakers from around the United States looked to how voters here would rule on gerrymandering, marijuana legalization and whether to codify business monopolies in the constitution. What were commentators around the country saying about Tuesday’s results? Today, we take a look. Your thoughts? Email rollins@coxohio.com. — Ron Rollins

On marijuana: David Akadjian at The Daily Kos.

All of the attention in Ohio election was on Issue 3, the proposal to legalize marijuana.

However, Issue 2, a proposal to protect “the initiative process from being used for personal economic benefit,” a poison pill inserted by the Ohio legislature, also passed.

The vote was much closer on Issue 2 than 3. I was advising people that if they wanted to vote against Issue 3, just vote against Issue 3.

Here’s how Issue 2 is likely to prevent future decriminalization efforts and a few lessons learned for those of us interested in decriminalizing marijuana in other states.

Here’s what Ohio Issue 2 does: Prohibit any petitioner from using the Ohio Constitution to grant a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel for their exclusive financial benefit or to establish a preferential tax status; require the bipartisan Ohio Ballot Board to determine if a proposed constitutional amendment violates the prohibitions above, and if it does, present two separate ballot questions to voters. Both ballot questions must receive a majority yes vote before the proposed amendment could take effect.

Basically, the amendment puts determination of what constitutes a monopoly, oligopoly, or cartel, in the sole hands of the Ohio Ballot Board.

The Ohio Ballot Board consists of Secretary of State Jon Husted (R), two Republicans, and two Democrats. In other words, this constitutional amendment that was just passed puts sole control of determining whether all future ballot proposals are some kind of monopoly in the hands of Secretary of State Jon Husted.

Here’s why this likely blocks decriminalization for a long time to come.

1. The state legislature won’t touch the issue because it is majority Republican and they would face a political backlash. Primarily from older, “tough on crime” Republicans. A ballot initiative is therefore the only political chance for decriminalization in Ohio.

2. Roughly $20-30 million is required to pass a ballot initiative in the state. Any initiative.

3. ResponsibleOhio raised this money from investors based on their ability to make a profit. The only way they can make a profit is if they have growing privileges for some amount of time. This time around, they proposed 10 growers.

4. In the future, however, because of Issue 2, this is now virtually impossible. The legislature can say a monopoly or oligopoly is whatever it wants. 100 growers? 1,000 growers? They can literally block it for any number of investors.

Now you might say, as I’ve heard from many: “Good.” Everyone should be allowed to grow and sell marijuana.

The problem with this approach is that “everyone” is not going to fund $20-30 million to pass a ballot initiative. Raising the $20-30 million requires some guarantee of profiting. Even if it’s a short term guarantee.

The Ohio legislature could put issues on the ballot and, more importantly, that people don’t realize these aren’t “people backed” initiatives. ResponsibleOhio, whether you agreed with them or not, gathered 700,000 signatures for Issue 3. Issue 2 was put on the ballot by Republicans in the state legislature as a poison pill, not just for this ballot initiative but for any future efforts at legalization.

It’s really devious too and confused the hell out of most people I know who generally follow politics pretty closely. …

My other lesson learned is that perhaps we shouldn’t be so afraid of the idea of someone profiting. The number of alcohol producers in Ohio are also limited. Yet no one is screaming.

Words like “cartel” and “oligopoly” and “kingpin” were being tossed around casually when it would simply have been a state-regulated business. Could there have been more producers? In my opinion, sure. Was this some kind of evil criminal enterprise? I don’t think so. I think the group looked at the money it would take to get 700,000 signatures and funded the effort on the hopes of future returns. …

And unfortunately, on the backs of all the frothing anger, the Ohio legislature snuck through a poison pill that will prevent future efforts and likely sets marijuana decriminalization in Ohio back 20 years.

On marijuana: By Bob Cesca, at Salon.

Ohio has failed for two decades to legalize medicinal marijuana, despite the treatment’s proven efficacy for treating a wide variety of ailments and symptoms. Naturally, Ohio’s far-right legislature won’t even convene a hearing to consider a law to support medicinal, and definitely not recreational marijuana. Meanwhile, liberal and libertarian groups have struggled to get a ballot measure approved for decades now, but have invariably failed. It’s expensive to do so, and it’s the seventh biggest state in the country, at nearly 12 million people, a challenging reality for acquiring the requisite petition signatures, but one that would make legalization in Ohio an incontrovertible game changer.

Now that legalization has become popularized nationwide, with other states moving forward to decriminalize pot possession and sales,in spite of a federal ban, it seems like the time is ripe for something to happen in Ohio as well. Not only would it greatly reduce the annual $120 million required for law enforcement focused on pot growers and dealers, but throughout 2016 it would force presidential candidates from both parties to address the issue during the hundreds of visits to the state they’ll make throughout the campaign. …

So, why on earth are liberal groups like the Ohio Green Party opposing Issue 3?

Well, the amendment, progressive opponents claim, would sanction a monopoly on the growing and sales of marijuana. It’s unclear how 10 growers constitutes a monopoly, exactly, but the state’s Green Party, for example, seems to think so. The party is urging its supporters to vote in support of Issue 2 and against Issue 3, since Issue 2 would cancel out Issue 3. Suffice to say, it’s a rather confusing legal dynamic for ordinary voters to understand.

Elsewhere, Drug Policy Alliance (DPA) Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann, normally a vocal supporter of legalization, said recently, “Damn. This thing sticks in my craw. Ten business interests are going to dominate this thing?” …

None of that should supersede the reality that it’s either this amendment or nothing, perhaps for a long, long while. It’s a massive gamble for liberal groups who usually support legalization measures. The opposition to monopolies is a valid concern, but one that shouldn’t stand in the way of a broader legalization effort. …

As with the Affordable Care Act before it, which activist groups on the left tried to kill due to its lack of a so-called “public option,” liberals are again allowing (pardon the cliche) the perfect to be the enemy of the good. Again, millions of dollars would be saved due to reduced law enforcement efforts, while thousands of Ohioans would be spared from obscenely overblown prison sentences for possession. By the way, black men are currently four times more likely to face prison on cannabis charges. Maybe we should ask them about whether 10 growers constitutes a deal-breaking monopoly.

Indeed, opposing Issue 3 due to its alleged creation of a weed monopoly is not unlike opposing legal alcohol in states like Pennsylvania where only state-sanctioned retail outlets can sell hard liquor and wine. If the priorities are legalized pot and undermining the drug war, then Issue 3 ought to be a no-brainer.

On legislative redistricting: By John Nichols, at The Nation.

Are Americans ready for great big reforms that renew democracy?

Yes.

Americans keep telling us they want real reform with local and state resolutions — more than 600 so far — calling for a constitutional amendment to overturn the U.S. Supreme Court’s disastrous Citizens United ruling and restore the essential premises that money is not speech, corporations are not people and citizens and their elected representatives have a right to organize elections where votes matter more than dollars. On Tuesday, the city of Kent, Ohio, joined the list, giving 64 percent support to a resolution that declares “1. Only human beings, not corporations, are legal persons with Constitutional rights, and 2. Money is not equivalent to speech, and therefore, regulating political contributions and spending does not equate to limiting political speech.” To emphasize their point, Kent voters mandated the establishment of an annual Democracy Day to focus attention on the need to let the will of the people—as opposed to big money—define the direction of government.

Americans keep telling us they want real reform with grassroots organizing, petitioning and marching on behalf of voting rights that — despite the ongoing assault by right-wing politicians and the U.S. Supreme Court on Voting Rights Act protections — has yielded tremendous victories such as the groundbreaking Oregon and California automatic voter registration laws.

And Americans told us a lot on Tuesday by backing bold new responses to a broken politics.

In Ohio, 71 percent of voters backed Issue 1, a constitutional amendment to ban partisan gerrymandering and establish a bipartisan Ohio Redistricting Commission to draw legislative district lines that promote real competition. The vote was so overwhelming that backers now plan to take on an even bigger target: the gerrymandering of congressional seats. “Today’s win was an important first step, but it only got us halfway there,” says League of Women Voters of Ohio executive director Carrie Davis. “We need to take these new anti-gerrymandering rules that Issue 1 applied to the General Assembly and extend them to congressional districts, which are even more gerrymandered.” …

The crises created by big money in politics — corruption of governance, warped policy making, vapid campaigns, low turnout — require local, state, and national action. National action — constitutional and congressional — will be the heaviest lift. And that’s why it is vital to keep conscious of what can be done at the local and state levels. Model responses matter, and the 2015 election results signal that they are coming. ….

Democracy vouchers let citizens, not special interests, finance elections.

But the most immediate response is for grassroots activists to take the cue from Ohio, Maine and Seattle and start making the changes that are necessary and possible in hometowns and home states across this country.

On marijuana: by the USA Today Editorial Board.

It has long been known that politics can make for a pretty good business model.

Car dealers and real estate brokers, for instance, are famous for the laws they have pushed through state legislatures that limit upstart competitors. And major corporations have turned Washington lobbying offices into profit centers that manufacture tax breaks cheaper than factories can turn out actual products.

But one area of politics that has been relatively free of this kind of legalized graft has been the ballot initiative. Which is why Ohio’s overwhelming defeat of a marijuana legalization measure on Tuesday is such good news. Whatever you might think of pot’s place in society — we’d like to see how things go in Colorado and elsewhere before legalization spreads — Ohioans have set an example for those trying to use ballot measures for personal gain.

The measure in question, known as Issue 3, would not only have legalized pot, it also would have set up its financiers as the only large-scale growers of marijuana in the state. In fact, their little oligopoly would have been enshrined in Ohio’s Constitution.

Yes, wealthy individuals have long financed ballot initiatives. For the most part, however, their measures have been broad in scope, not personally enriching.

The Ohio measure was a brazen attempt by a few to enrich themselves unfairly. Not only did Ohio voters see through their ploy, they passed another measure that will bar similar types of ballot initiatives in the future.

On legislative redistricting: By Andrew Prokop, at Vox.

In a landslide vote Tuesday, Ohio voters approved a measure to combat gerrymandering of the state’s legislative districts, 71 percent to 29 percent.

The measure ensures that each major party will have at least two seats on the state’s redistricting commission. It also says that new maps will be thrown out after four years rather than 10 if they don’t get bipartisan support, and adds a line to the state constitution saying that no legislative districts “shall be drawn primarily to favor or disfavor a party.”

Now, the changes do not apply to the state’s seriously gerrymandered congressional districts. These are still drawn by the legislature and are subject to approval from the governor. However, reformers’ victory here will surely inspire them to push for similar changes on the congressional level — and likely on the 2016 ballot.

The newly approved reform measure makes partisan redistricting more difficult in a few ways:

• It expands the redistricting commission to seven members, and now features at least two guaranteed members of each of the two major parties in the legislature. So already, both parties have more of a voice.

• If the commission’s members approve a district plan that doesn’t have the support of at least two members from each party, the plan will only last four years. Conversely, if a plan does get bipartisan support (at least two supporters from each party), it will last the full 10 years. This incentivizes a bipartisan plan.

• The Ohio constitution will now state that no legislative districts “shall be drawn primarily to favor or disfavor a party.” This could have significant implications to court challenges of any plans viewed as too partisan, as seen in Florida. Districts are also required to be contiguous and compact.

So if reforms like these are adopted for the Ohio’s congressional districts in 2016, it could have a major impact on one of the most gerrymanderedHouse delegations of them all.

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