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The U.S. Supreme Court declined to hear a case involving a ballot restriction on a marijuana ballot issue in Garrettsville and Windham on Tuesday.

The case involved a ballot initiative in November 2018 placed in the Garrettsville and Windham ballots that would have decriminalized marijuana possession of 200 grams or less, including no fines, no license lost and no jail time for a misdemeanor possession. Eventually the issues were on the ballot in November 2018, where Garrettsville voted down the measure 515 votes to 471 votes, and the measure passed in Windham with 237 votes to 206 votes.

The question that would have been in front of the Supreme Court Court involved whether First Amendment and strict scrutiny apply to subject matter restrictions on ballot initiatives.

Petitioners were William T. Schmitt, Chad Thompson and Debbie Blewitt, Windham’s mayor. The respondent is Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose.

Mark Brown, a Columbus attorney representing the petitioners, said the petitioners were, “disappointed the Supreme Court denied review.” The Ohio Attorney General’s Office, who is litigating for the state, declined to comment. 

On Aug. 21, 2018, the Portage County Board of Elections refused to certify the petitions to place the marijuana possession issue on the ballot, “because it concluded their content was not proper for inclusion on Ohio’s ballots,” the lawsuit claims. Three people took the issue to the Southern District of Ohio federal district court where they argued the state statutes allowing the board to reject the measures were unconstitutional and violated their First and 14th Amendment rights. A permanent injunction was issued and the initiative appeared on the November 2018 ballot.

In August 2019, the state of Ohio appealed, saying the process was proper. The U.S. Sixth Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the district court’s ruling and vacated the permanent injunction. The appeals court agreed the process was proper, but after Ohio admitted they would not try to remove the marijuana initiatives because of their subject. Judge Helene White wrote the opinion. The activists asked for a rehearing of the case but were denied.

The case then was appealed at the Supreme Court level. The appeal argued the process is not proper. Specifically, they argued that by not allowing direct democracy to occur, the board of elections violated the First Amendment rights of the citizens of Windham and Garrettsville.

Many towns, cities and villages outside of Portage County have passed cannabis decriminalization ordinances, many by voting. Some cities with cannabis decriminalization ordinances include Dayton, Cleveland, Athens and Columbus.

Contact reporter Eileen McClory at emcclory@recordpub.com or @Eileen_McClory.

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