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Efforts to amend Ohio Constitution abound

5 proposals submitted already this year; petition language for 4 approved by state

COLUMBUS -- As Ohio voters head for the zoo, grocery store, library, or pretty much any street corner this summer, they can expect to be approached by people bearing petitions, in some cases several of them.

In just the first three months of 2012, language for five proposed amendments to the Ohio Constitution have been submitted to the attorney general's office for approval. Four of them have been given the thumbs-up to hit the streets.

One is a proposal to legalize marijuana for medical purposes that will compete with another plan that got a head start last year.

Also being proposed are undoing the 2004 ban on gay marriage, prohibiting workplace unions from collecting fees from employees who refuse to join, a new plan for drawing congressional and legislative districts every 10 years, and a method of funding for developing clean energy sources. That compares with four proposed amendments in all of 2011.

It remains to be seen how many will be able to meet the requirement that they gather roughly 385,000 valid signatures of registered voters to make the ballot, and it definitely would be an uphill battle for any to do so in time to meet the early July cutoff to make the November ballot.

"I've always been a believer that people ought to be able to petition their government," Gov. John Kasich said Friday when asked about the pace at which Ohioans are trying to change their constitution.

But he isn't a fan of either the medical marijuana or labor "right to work" issues.

"If somebody asks me, I'm not for [legalized medical marijuana]," Mr. Kasich said. "I'm not going to travel the state or get into a debate on medical marijuana. Physicians tell me we don't need that. There are better ways to help people who are in pain."

He said his emphasis remains on curbing prescription drug abuse in the state.

Supporters of the most recent medical marijuana amendment formally launched their petition drive this week, arguing that the measure would provide a right to about 11 million Ohioans that roughly 90 million Americans in 16 states, including Michigan, and the District of Columbia have.

The amendment would set up a regulated system through which people suffering chronic pain, nausea, or other symptoms from illnesses such as cancer and AIDS could personally acquire and use marijuana.

On the heels of last year's voter defeat of Republican-passed Senate Bill 5 restrictions on public employee collective bargaining powers, Mr. Kasich has sounded a cautious note on the proposed amendment prohibiting mandatory union fee collections in Ohio.

The amendment is being pushed by many of the same players involved in last year's successful health-care amendment, aimed, in part, at thumbing Ohio's nose at President Obama's health-care reform law.

"Right now in our state, as it relates to organized labor, in the private sector particularly, we've had problems in Findlay [at Cooper Tire & Rubber], but we reached agreement in Toledo with Chrysler workers," Mr. Kasich said. "The same thing in Lordstown [where General Motors Co. has a plant]. There's not big labor unrest in Ohio."

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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