Elections Board Rejects Norwood Ballot Issue To Decriminalize Pot

Aug 22, 2016

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The Hamilton County Board of Elections Monday unanimously rejected a Norwood ballot issue which would decriminalize marijuana in the city.

Attorney Brice Keller, who represents Sensible Norwood, the group which circulated petitions for the ballot issue, said he is likely to ask the Ohio Supreme Court to review the elections board's decision.

Keller said Monday afternoon he is likely to file something with the Ohio Supreme Court this week to get an expedited hearing on the matter. 

"I do feel strongly that the board of elections did not have the authority to do this,'' Keller said. 

Board of Elections Chairman Tim Burke said the board had no choice but to deny ballot status for the November 8 election.

Burke, speaking to Keller after Monday morning's special board meeting, asked him to "do it quickly" if he decides to appeal to the Ohio Supreme Court, because the board is under pressure to begin printing ballots for November. Military and overseas ballots for the November election must be sent out on Sept. 22.

The ballot language, Burke said, would do things that are not legal under Ohio law.

"The city of Norwood does not have the authority to adopt new felonies and neither do the citizens of Norwood to propose that as a Norwood city ordinance,'' Burke said.

"And similarly, they don't have the authority to direct, in an administrative manner, how police officers and the prosecutor are to do their jobs."

The language of the 16-page Sensible Norwood ballot issue would prohibit police officers from reporting possession and sale of marijuana to any authority except the city attorney; and it would prevent the city attorney from referring any such reports for prosecution.

In other words, no one could be punished under the law for possession or sale of marijuana.

Keller defended the petition initiative Monday at the board of elections' special session.

"This is not an administrative issue; it is a legislative one,'' Keller said.

Keller also argued that Ohio law does not "allow election board members to sit as arbiters of the legality of ballot issues. That is for the courts to decide."

But Dave Stevenson, the assistant county prosecutor assigned to the board of elections, told the four board members – two Democrats and two Republicans – that they do, in fact, have authority as the "gatekeepers" of what is and is not allowed on the ballot.

Burke told Keller that the board of elections "is not here to judge the legality or the constitutionality of the issue. But issuing instructions to the police to not prosecute people who may have violated state or federal law is an administrative function. And ballot issues can't deal with administration functions."