A campaign to decriminalize marijuana in Ohio has been dealt a major blow after the U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case challenging local Ohio officials’ refusal to place decriminalization initiatives on municipal ballots on Tuesday. Back in 2018, activists submitted ballot initiatives to legalize marijuana in Garrettsville and Windham, but the Portage County Board of Elections determined that the initiatives could not appear before the voters.
The board argued that since the proposals constituted administrative rather than legislative issues, they were not appropriate for the ballot process. This led to a two year legal battle between cannabis reform activists and the Portage County Board of Elections, culminating in the Supreme Court’s decision to not hear the case.
Once the ballot initiatives were rejected by the board, decriminalization advocates took the matter to the federal district court. Their argument was that the state statutes that allowed the board to reject the measures violated their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights, thus are unconstitutional. The judge was in agreement and granted them a restraining order and forcing the Secretary of State to let the municipalities of Windham and Garrettsville vote on the proposal.
The district court later issued a permanent injunction prohibiting the state from “enforcing the gatekeeper function in any manner that fails to provide a constitutionally sufficient review process to a party aggrieved by the rejection of an initiative petition.” The victory, however, was short-lived.
The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals later reversed the district’s ruling and vacated the permanent injunction. Like the defendants, the appeals court believed that the decriminalization measures were an administrative matter, as opposed to legislative, and this gave the board the right to refuse to place the measures on the ballot. Furthermore, the court stated that the plaintiffs did have the right to seek a “judicially imposed remedy through mandamus relief” but instead chose to challenge the state statute itself.
On Tuesday, Bloomberg’s Kimberly Robinson reported that the U.S. Supreme Court will not be taking up the case. While it is unclear whether this will embolden other boards of election in Ohio to reject certain initiatives, Portage County seems to be an isolated occurrence. 17 cities in the state have passed decriminalization measures, and most of them have been through the ballot.
At the moment, jurisdictions with decriminalization on the books include Toledo, Athens, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Dayton and Columbus, and cannabis reform activists are looking to significantly increase the number of municipalities with decriminalization on their books.
The news of the Supreme Court’s decision is likely to trigger sector players like Green Growth Brands Inc. (CSE: GGB) (OTCQB: GGBXF) to follow events in Ohio closely in order to see whether lessons there can provide pointers as to what could happen elsewhere.
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