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Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost rejects ballot language for marijuana legalization proposal

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- A campaign pushing to legalize marijuana in Ohio will have to collect a new batch of petition signatures after Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost rejected the first batch the group submitted, citing issues with how the petition summarized the group’s proposed law change.

Yost said in a Thursday letter to the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol that the group’s six pages of summary language failed to meet the legal threshold that requires it to be a “fair and truthful statement” of what the 45-page law change would do. Among the examples Yost cited: he said the text failed to explain in detail that employers could choose to discipline or refuse to hire marijuana users, he said it fails to clearly explain that a six-marijuana-plant-per-person limit applies to both cultivating and possessing the plant and that it doesn’t explain the full authority of the proposed Division of Cannabis Control.

“For these reasons, I am unable to certify the summary as a fair and truthful statement of the proposed chapter. However, I must caution that this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all defects in the submitted summary,” wrote Yost, a Republican.

Getting ballot language approved is the first hurdle any state issue campaign must clear. But Yost’s rejection isn’t the final say for the group. The group now must try to address the issues Yost identified and resubmit another batch of at least 1,000 valid signatures.

“All I can really say at this point is it just came in,” said Tom Haren, a Cleveland lawyer who is a spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. “We’re reviewing. But we do plan to resubmit.”

The coalition plans to start circulating for what’s called a statewide initiative, a mechanism through which citizens can put a proposed law change before the state legislature. Lawmakers then could decide to pass the law. A similar maneuver in 2016 pressured state lawmakers into legalizing medical marijuana, leading to the program that launched in 2018. The current campaign could be an attempt to force the legislature’s hand once again.

But if the legislature fails to act, or passes a modified version of the law, backers then could seek to take the original proposal for a statewide vote. The process of presenting the the law to the legislature, and then to send it to voters if necessary, is a costly one, and involves collecting hundreds of thousands of signatures from across the state.

Under the proposal, Ohioans age 21 and older would be allowed to purchase, possess and grow marijuana at home. Existing Ohio medical marijuana dispensaries could expand their businesses to sell to adults 21 and older, and new marijuana businesses could be added to accommodate recreational demand.

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