Special investigator to review petitions seeking to legalize marijuana

Husted appointed a special investigator to review petitions submitted by ResponsibleOhio, which is attempting to amend the Ohio constitution to legalize marijuana, according to a news release from Husted’s office on Wednesday.

“It is an investigation by our office to find out if there was anything criminal done,” said Joshua Eck, spokesman for Husted.

Husted said the group claimed more signatures on petitions than it submitted and he appointed Lima attorney David Bowers, former Allen County prosecutor, to investigate. Husted also said he will subpoena ResponsibleOhio, its executive director, Ian James, and the consulting company he heads, The Strategy Network, which manages the campaign.

“There are also discrepancies between the hard-copy petitions and what should have been identical electronic copies of those petitions,” the Husted news release said. “Such discrepancies, if the product of fraud, are subject to criminal penalties up to a fifth degree felony.”

In a written statement released on Wednesday James, a veteran political strategist, said, “When collecting signatures and registering Ohio voters, The Strategy Network follows the letter of the law. We are confident in our process, and we are currently reviewing the Secretary’s requests.”

“In the meantime, we will continue to gather signatures from Ohio voters who want the chance to vote in November to repeal marijuana prohibition and end the failed War on Drugs in our state,” he said.

Husted’s office said he had warned ResponsibleOhio last month that The Strategy Network had submitted “an alarming number” of fraudulent voter registration forms.

“Fraud and sloppiness have more in common than being the devastating cause of undermining voter confidence, they are illegal and will not be tolerated by my office,” Husted said.

Last week James accused elections officials of failing to count about 40,000 signatures on the petitions and improperly invalidating about 21,000 - a number the group now says totals 35,001. He said the group might file a complaint with the Ohio Supreme Court.

James says ResponsibleOhio turned in 695,000 signatures on petitions, which are formally known as “part petitions.”

“Our ultimate goal, however, remains that we will make sure that the 35,001 signatures that were incorrectly invalidated are counted, and the 284 part petitions that were filed, but not processed, are correctly processed,” ResponsibleOhio spokeswoman Jennifer Redman said.

Husted and local elections officials said they had properly counted all signatures. Most were thrown out because the person who signed wasn’t a registered voter or wasn’t registered at the address listed, or because the person signed petitions more than once. Entire petitions were thrown out if the circulator certified that he or she witnessed more signatures than were actually on the petition.

County boards of election invalidated more than 58 percent of the 660,190 signatures Husted said were submitted by the June 30 deadline. The 276,082 valid signatures left the campaign 29,509 short of the number of registered voters required to get on the ballot , according to Husted’s office. By law, ResponsibleOhio had 10 days since being notified of the shortfall to collect enough to put meet the 305,591 signature threshold.

ResponsibleOhio plans to use every last minute to collect, process and submit the needed valid signatures from registered Ohio voters by tonight’s deadline to qualify for the statewide ballot.

The multi-million dollar campaign deployed 200 paid petition circulators across the state with the goal of gathering 100,000 signatures — 10,000 per day for 10 days, according to Redman. It also has five regional offices scattered across the state to accommodate walk-in petition signers. And about 100 volunteers have also been circulating petitions, she said.

She noted that the campaign will likely submit the second batch of signatures to the secretary of state around 11:45 p.m.

Redman said the group’s latest effort focuses on areas missed in the first collection effort as well as in counties where the validation rate was higher.

ResponsibleOhio’s proposed constitutional amendment would allow:

* establishing 10 growing sites controlled by investor groups that are bankrolling the campaign;

* setting up a governor-appointed Marijuana Control Commission to regulate and oversee the industry;

* licensing of pot product manufacturers, medical dispensaries, retail stores and quality and safety testing facilities.

ResponsibleOhio would also license adults 21 or older who want to grow up to four flowering plants at home. Tax revenues would be shared among cities, counties and a fund for research, addiction treatment and control commission operations.