Columbus — Backers of a marijuana legalization amendment on this fall’s ballot filed petitions on Tuesday to put a separate proposed law in legislators’ laps to expunge criminal convictions for past pot offenses that would no longer be illegal.
The proposed initiated statute assumes voters will approve Issue 3 on Nov. 3 to make Ohio the first state east of Colorado to legalize pot for medical and recreational purposes, which remains a big question mark.
But Ian James, executive director for ResponsibleOhio, said the group still will push what’s being called the Fresh Start Act if Issue 3 fails. The act could affect other activities that might be decriminalized by the legislature or voters.
“This allows people who’ve been convicted of offenses that are no longer illegal an ability to move forward, an ability to get expungement and sentencing review,” he said. “We’ve seen people who are shackled to their past, be that from a misdemeanor for having as little as one joint in their pocket, and they lose their driver’s license so they can’t get to work, or they lose their student financial aid so they can’t go to college, or they lose the ability of ever having employment licensing, such as plumber, Realtor, or even a nail tech or barber.”
Instead of pursuing another constitutional amendment, which would require roughly 306,000 valid signatures of registered voters, ResponsibleOhio this time is going the initiated statute route. It needs roughly 92,000 signatures to put the proposed law before lawmakers at the start of 2016 and give them four months to act.
It claimed it filed nearly 237,000 signatures with the secretary of state’s office.
If the General Assembly doesn’t act to the satisfaction of the proposal’s backers, then ResponsibleOhio could hit the streets again to gather 92,000 or so signatures to put the question directly to voters on the November, 2016, ballot.
The opposition group, Ohioans Against Marijuana Monopolies, accused ResponsibleOhio of using the Fresh Start issue to confuse voters.
“Issue 3 is about cementing greedy private investors into Ohio’s constitution with a plan that will create more than 1,100 marijuana stores selling marijuana-infused edibles that pose a serious risk to our children,” it said in a written statement. “Our broad-based coalition has come together to defeat Issue 3 in November and is focused solely on that ballot issue.”
The Fresh Start Act would go even further than the “Sensible Marijuana Ordinance” that Toledo voters approved on Sept. 15, which, if allowed to take effect, would decrease existing penalties for marijuana to the minimum allowed. There would be no jail time, fines, driver’s license suspensions, and other legal consequences from a conviction for what would remain an illegal activity if Issue 3 doesn’t pass on Nov. 3.
Supporters of the Toledo ordinance and the proposed statewide issues have argued that current laws unfairly affect people of color.
“Our communities have been devastated, as you would expect when you remove millions of young men of color and export them from inner cities to prisons,” said the Rev. D.L. Perryman, pastor of the Center of Hope Baptist Church in Toledo. He attended a Columbus news conference in support of Issue 3 and the Fresh Start Act.
“You have an effect on the children and the women who are left behind, on their schooling, their mental health, and their behavior,” he said. “… This Fresh Start is the first step in rebuilding that community.”
Source: Toledo Blade, The (OH)
Author: Jim Provance, Blade Columbus Bureau Chief
Published: September 23, 2015
Copyright: 2015 The Blade