COLUMBUS — A federal judge has ordered two initiative petitions seeking to decriminalize marijuana possession in Garrettsville and Windham be placed on the November ballot, a month after they were denied consideration by local elections officials.
U.S. District Judge Edmund Sargus gave his decision Wednesday in the case of Schmitt et al v. Husted. It orders the Portage County Board of Elections and Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted to place the initiative petitions on the ballot for consideration by voters in Garrettsville and Windham.
Theresa Nielsen, deputy director of the Portage County Board of Elections, said the petitions are on the ballot for residents of the villages as Issues 37 and 38.
Petitioners William Schmitt Jr. and Chad Thompson drafted the petitions and obtained enough signatures from Garrettsville and Windham residents — many at Garrettsville’s recent Summerfest — to seek to eliminate fines, costs and license suspensions for those convicted of misdemeanor marijuana possession under village ordinances.
“It was good the Constitution was upheld by the court to stop the blatant power grab from all the Board of Elections who overstepped their power,” Schmitt said.
The measure seeks to decriminalize marijuana possession of 200 grams or less including no fines, no license lost and no jail time for misdemeanor possession.
The Portage County Board of Elections refused to certify the petitions on Aug. 21. Schmitt and Thompson then sued for a temporary restraining order to prohibit the board from keeping the initiatives off the ballot, claiming a violation of their First and Fourteenth Amendment rights.
Saugus ruled: “Ohio’s regulatory scheme unreasonably infringes on (the plaintiff’s) First Amendment rights by allowing an executive board to determine disputed legal and even constitutional issues, thereby potentially blocking initiatives from the ballot, and then denying rejected petitioners a right to review.”
Schmitt and Thompson travel the state urging decriminalization and legalization of marijuana, Schmitt said. Schmitt has passed a similar initiative in his hometown of Bellaire, a city on the banks of the Ohio River in southeastern Ohio, and said it has passed in a total of six Ohio cities.
He and Thompson connected over their activism several years ago and have spent much of the past five years trying to decriminalize marijuana.
Schmitt has worked with the pro-marijuana Ohio Rights Group and branches of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, or NORML, in several Ohio counties.
Schmitt said the issue was never about marijuana but about civil rights and the abuse of power. He added he is pleased Windham and Garrettsville are back on the ballot. The villages join Harbor View, Fremont, Oregon and Norwood, all in Ohio, which have issues approved for their Nov. 6 ballot.
Reporter Dave O’Brien can be reached at 330-298-1128, firstname.lastname@example.org or @daveobrien_RC. Reporter Briana Barker contributed to this story.