A federal judge ruled this week that Ohio activists seeking legalization of marijuana can use electronic signatures. Before the impact of the COVID-19 outbreak, face-to-face signature collection activities prohibited.
The court also ordered state government officials to extend the deadline for submitting signatures from July 1 to July 31.
The Sensible Movement Coalition (SMC) has successfully initiated several decriminalization initiatives in Ohio and has formulated ambitious plans for 2020. Before the state government issued a ban on home segregation and social alienation measures, they were stepping up to collect signatures from 14 other cities.
The ban on health emergencies brought a fatal blow to these activities, and activists then appealed to the court, arguing that, in this case, it is unconstitutional to prevent alternative signature collection methods.
Judge Edmund Sargus Jr. of the US District Court for the Southern District of Ohio sided with the plaintiffs and ruled that electronic signatures for their initiatives—as well as for separate campaigns on a minimum wage increase and election security measures that joined the suit—can be accepted.
"The wet signature and witness requirements require circulators to go into the public and collect signatures in person. But the close, person-to-person contacts required for in-person signature gathering have been strongly discouraged—if not prohibited—for several months because of the ongoing public health crisis, and likely pose a danger to the health of the circulators and the signers, "he stated in his order.
Although the judge emphasized that his ruling was not a criticism of the public emergency issued by the state, "the impact of the Stay-at-Home Orders on Ohioans and the continued risk of close interactions cannot be ignored."
Sargus said, "The reality is that the Orders and the COVID-19 pandemic have made it impossible for Plaintiffs to satisfy Ohio's signature requirements. Because the burden imposed by the enforcement of the requirements in these circumstances is severe, strict scrutiny is warranted. "
For local initiatives to be eligible to vote in November, activists must collect signatures of less than 10% of the city's vote in the most recent governor election.
Plaintiff Chad Thompson, the executive director of SMC who authored the model decriminalization ordinance, told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Wednesday that it's "very refreshing to see the progress in terms of citizen access to the ballot, where we can now use electronic signatures , which is going to take the citizen's voice to the next level when it comes to initiative. "
So far, a total of 17 cities in Ohio have legalized marijuana-most of them through voting, and a few through the city council. Cannabis legalization cities include Dayton, Toledo, Athens, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland, etc.