- Associated Press - Tuesday, June 16, 2015

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Republican legislative leaders in Ohio moved Tuesday to make it harder to amend the state’s constitution with ballot issues that provide economic benefits to few individuals or create monopolies, which could affect a marijuana legalization effort.

A resolution introduced in the House would curb such amendments from getting through the swing state’s ballot initiative process, Senate President Keith Faber and House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger said.

Voters would have to approve the proposal, which must clear the Legislature with a three-fifths majority before Aug. 5 to appear on fall ballots.

The effort comes as the group ResponsibleOhio seeks to legalize marijuana and create 10 designated grow sites around the state, some of which investors have already purchased. Backers of the issue say they have more than enough signatures to get it on 2015 ballots.

Opponents say the grow site arrangement is an example of misuse of the constitution for business interests. They also site a 2009 ballot issue that inserted casino operator monopolies into the constitution and an aborted 2014 amendment that would have allowed an out-of-state commission to control $1.3 billion a year in mandatory spending on alternative energy.

“The day of trying to buy our state Constitution, we need to start putting some brakes to it pretty quick,” Rosenberger said, “because this is not acceptable to the people of the state of Ohio and it’s not something that we should continue to be OK with.”

The resolution specifically would amend the state constitution to prohibit “creation of a monopoly or special interest, privilege, benefit, right or license of an economic nature for any individual, group of individuals, or business entity that is otherwise not made available to similarly situated individuals or entities.”

Individuals or groups could get around the provision by asking voters for explicit permission to do so through a citizen-initiated petition and then going to the ballot to enshrine that exception into the constitution. That two-step process would proceed going to the ballot with the issue itself.

Ian James, executive director of ResponsibleOhio, called the effort “odd and somewhat desperate.”

“Ohio’s a battleground state and it costs millions of dollars to put one of these issues before voters and get it passed. Now they want to make it more expensive,” he said. “They want to take the very thing that takes the process out of the hands of the rich and powerful and make it so only the rich and powerful can change the constitution in this manner.”

The proposal would give the Ohio attorney general the job of screening proposed amendments for monopolies or improper economic benefits, adding that review at the time the fairness and truthfulness of the petition summary is determined.

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