Equal Rights and Pot

It will come as no surprise that the religious right is more effectively organized than potheads. Two efforts are underway to put referendums on the ballot to change laws recently passed by Cincinn

Apr 19, 2006 at 2:06 pm

It will come as no surprise that the religious right is more effectively organized than potheads.

Two efforts are underway to put referendums on the ballot to change laws recently passed by Cincinnati City Council, but only one has a real chance of going before voters Nov. 7.

Voters might have thought they'd settled the issue of equal rights for gays, lesbians, bisexual and trans-gender (GLBT) people in 2004, when they repealed the discriminatory Article 12 section of the city charter. Council followed up last month by passing an ordinance that forbids discrimination based on sexual orientation.

But last week a group affiliated with Citizens for Community Values (CCV) submitted signatures to place the human rights measure on the ballot. This is the same group that convinced voters to pass the original discriminatory charter amendment in 1993.

It's not easy to fight City Hall. To put a municipal referendum on the ballot, organizers must collect valid signatures from 7,654 registered voters, equivalent to 10 percent of the votes cast in Cincinnati in the most recent gubernatorial election. The petitions must be filed with the city's finance department within 30 days after council passed the ordinance.

For the referendum to make it to the ballot, city council must certify the petitions at least 75 days before the election.

It's too early in the process to know if voters are in for another battle over equal rights. Citizens to Restore Fairness (CRF), which convinced voters to repeal Article 12, is taking the threat seriously.

"We are starting a campaign right now to fight back, and we urgently need your help," says an appeal for donations from Gary Wright, coordinator of CRF. "If their petitions are valid, we will need to convince the voters of Cincinnati to vote yes for fairness once again. A majority of Cincinnati voters will need to vote yes to include GLBT people in our human rights law at the ballot box this November before the law will go into effect."

For more information about CRF, visit www.equalitycincinnati.org.

CCV might get the repeal measure on the ballot, but Unite Cincinnati almost certainly won't succeed in mounting a referendum to repeal the city's new marijuana law. Last month council approved penalties of up to six months in jail for possession of small amounts of pot.

Instead of going to places where people assemble in large groups and circulating petitions, Unite Cincinnati is hoping voters will come to them, according to Nate Livingston Jr., coordinator of the effort. The group has asked Justin Jeffre, pop singer and former candidate for mayor, to champion the cause.

"We're hoping Justin, with his celebrity, will go on all the radio stations and get the voters to come to us," Livingston says.

It will take a pretty steady crowd flowing toward the law office of Kenneth Lawson to generate 7,654 valid signatures within the 30-day period. That's where the petitions are: 808 Elm St., downtown.

That's also where a second effort to repeal the marijuana law is underway. Last week Lawson filed suit on Livingston's behalf, asking the Hamilton County Court of Common Pleas to declare the new pot law unconstitutional.

A judge will have to decide whether the suit has legal merit, but the language of the complaint is at least entertaining. Lawson wrote that the ordinance is unfair because, for example, college students who smoke dope outside the city limits face only the relatively mild state penalty of $100, involving a citation rather than arrest and jail time.

"For some reason now students who attend the University of Cincinnati can find themselves labeled as criminals, where those who attend the University of Miami (sic) can smoke all they want and not be labeled criminals," Lawson wrote. "This is definitely a violation of equal protection under law and a violation of the civil rights of all of those individuals, including Cheech and Chong, the Grateful Dead and those who are willing to fight for their right to party!!!"

Exclamation marks are not considered evidence in Ohio law, even in triplicate; nor does the state constitution mention a "right to party." But at least they're trying.

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