With early voting now underway in Ohio, the potential that marijuana may be legalized remains the hottest political topic in our state. With Colorado reporting sales of $100 million in just the last month, it’s ensured that legalization will remain on peoples’ minds here and everywhere else. Seemingly lost among the debate is a related effort by Responsible Ohio, the group behind Issue 3. It’s known as the Fresh Start Act. The idea is this: if Ohio voters approve Issue 3 then the Fresh Start Act will allow those who ran afoul of various marijuana laws to petition to have their records expunged. A successful expungement essentially means life continues as if the offense never occurred, at least in the eyes of the court.
For many, a violation of marijuana laws means an apparent lifetime of consequences. Employment, housing, and student loans can and are impacted by the scarlet letter of a marijuana citation or conviction. Clearly, it is time for a change.
Such a change would be most welcome for the more than 10,000 Ohioans arrested each year. After all, if Issue 3 passes, why should those people cited or convicted under repealed laws continue to pay the collateral consequences for something now legal? For many, a violation of marijuana laws means a lifetime of consequences. Employment, housing, and student loans are impacted by the scarlet letter of a marijuana citation or conviction. Clearly, it’s time for a change. How It Would Work The path for adoption of the Fresh Start Act is not an easy one. As mentioned, Issue 3 passing is key. Additionally, Issue 2, which seeks to invalidate Issue 3, must be defeated. The Fresh Start Act will go through the “initiated statute” process. This is different than Issue 3, which appears before voters as an amendment to the Ohio Constitution. With a constitutional amendment, organizers must gather and submit several hundred thousand signatures from around Ohio to appear on the ballot. Signatures must also demonstrate a certain level of support from at least half of Ohio’s 88 counties. To be sure, getting on the ballot in Ohio is a difficult, expensive, and time-consuming process. However, the initiated statute process allows the Ohio General Assembly the opportunity to pass legislation. If they fail to do so or completely ignore the issue within four months after signatures are verified, organizers can have the issue placed on the ballot for voters to decide. This process also requires about half the minimum number of signatures needed for a constitutional amendment, with half required to get the issue before lawmakers and the other half necessary for ultimate placement on the ballot. So, in short, Issue 3 must pass and Issue 2 defeated before the Fresh Start Act can be considered. Ohio lawmakers then must decide whether or not they wish to pass the Fresh Start Act the same way they do all other laws. If not, it may very well end up on the ballot in 2016 for voters to decide.
Where We Stand The ACLU of Ohio endorses Issue 3 because we have been advocating for legalized marijuana for decades. We also endorse the Fresh Start Act. Our work on issues of over-incarceration, the criminal justice system, and the disproportionate impact of laws and law enforcement on communities of color lead us to believe the Fresh Start Act will benefit countless Ohioans guilty of low-level offenses that have prevented them from reaching their full potentials. Ohio voters have the power to bring fundamental change to our state. This starts with passage of Issue 3, defeat of Issue 2, and then supporting the Fresh Start Act. These represent a formidable mandate to discard a thoroughly discredited and harmful status quo.