With early voting in Ohio beginning next week, the campaign behind a ballot measure to legalize marijuana released a new campaign ad on Friday in support of the policy change. Attorney General Dave Yost (R), meanwhile, published an analysis of the initiative that he said is meant to provide voters with “vital clarity and transparency” amid a campaign that has seen “inflamed and inaccurate” rhetoric.
The new ad from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the primary backer of Issue 2, makes two main arguments: that Ohio’s existing medical marijuana law provides insufficient access to cannabis for some patients and that legalization would bring in “hundreds of millions in tax revenue.”
“While Ohio has a medical marijuana law, many patients still can’t get the medicine they need,” the ad says, adding that “many go to Michigan to get it.”
Pointing to a recent analysis by Ohio State University researchers estimating that the state could see between $257 million and more than $400 million annually in tax revenue through legalization, the ad says the money could cover “public safety, roads and drug treatment.”
“With so much misinformation and lies coming from the other side, Ohioans deserve to hear the truth about Issue 2,” campaign spokesperson Tom Haren said in a press release. “Our message focuses on the people who are relying on Issue 2 passing and the benefits to Ohio and our local communities.”
Some patients—such as veterans under Department of Veterans Affairs (VA) care who cannot receive a medical marijuana recommendation from their primary doctor or “cancer-afflicted Ohioans being treated by a major medical system”—face significant barriers to accessing medical marijuana in the state, the campaign said. “Passage of Issue 2 will solve this problem.”
Earlier in the week, the Yes on Issue 2 campaign took aim at opposition ads aired by TV stations in Ohio and West Virginia, saying they contained false claims about the proposed reform. An attorney for the group sent cease and desist letters to the stations in an attempt to stop broadcasts of the two spots.
Voter registration in Ohio officially closes on Tuesday, with early voting beginning on Wednesday.
Yost also published an analysis of Issue 1, a separate initiative about abortion rights and other reproductive health issues. Some feel the analyses veer into advocacy, noting Yost’s opposition to abortion and his past hesitancy around marijuana, but his office’s announcement Friday rebuffed those accusations.
“This is not an exercise in advocacy,” Yost said. “Rather, it is an effort to help Ohioans understand the legal impacts that Issue 1 and Issue 2 generate.”
He added that if either issue passes, his office “would be duty-bound to defend all parts of the laws where possible.”
“My office will offer the best legal defenses available,” he said, but emphasized that “I believe that we owe Ohioans both information now and a strong defense later.”
Yost’s four-page analysis of the cannabis legalization measure is relatively straightforward. It outlines the mechanics of the initiative and what it would allow and briefly describes how the new industry would be regulated.
Despite Yost’s stated concerns about legal impacts, however, the document is almost silent on potential obstacles around legalization. It notes that marijuana remains illegal under federal law and that “Issue 2 would not change that classification and cannot override federal law.”
“The federal government could still choose to criminally prosecute individuals who violate federal marijuana laws, even if the individual was abiding by Ohio marijuana laws,” the analysis acknowledges, thought it does not describe the state’s own potential liability for violating federal law.
One of the few speculative claims in the analysis is that, because of limits on legal marijuana products that would be established under the ballot measure, the state’s illicit cannabis market wouldn’t go away entirely.
Issue 2 would specify what types of marijuana products could be sold and would limit the total tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) content of all marijuana products,” Yost’s office said. “Because Issue 2 creates limitations on certain aspects of marijuana, the proposal is not expected to eliminate the black market for marijuana products.”
Here are the key provisions of the legalization ballot measure on the November 7 ballot:
- The initiative would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates.
- Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
- A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).
- A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”
- The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.
- The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.
- Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.
- Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”
- With respect to social equity, some advocates are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, the measure does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.
Nearly three in five state voters said they support adult-use legalization, according to a survey commissioned by the campaign and published late last month.
Republicans officials in Ohio remain divided on the issue. Gov. Mike DeWine said in August that he believes “it would be a real mistake for us to have recreational marijuana,” adding that he visited Colorado following its move to legalize in 2012 and saw what he described as an “unmitigated disaster.”
Sen. John Hickenlooper (D-CO), who was Colorado’s governor in 2012, said last year that while he was initially concerned that legalization would encourage more use by young people, he now believes those worries were unfounded.
“I think we’ve proven and demonstrated that there is no increase in experimentation among teenagers. There is no change in frequency of use, no change in driving while high,” Hickenlooper said. “All the things we most worried about didn’t come to pass.”
One of Ohio’s Republican representatives in Congress, for his part, is in favor of the policy change. A spokesperson for Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, previously told Marijuana Moment that the representative “is supportive of the measure and plans to vote yes.”
If the initiative becomes law, that would bring the total number of states with adult-use legalization to 24.
Ohio voters rejected a 2015 measure, on a 64–36 vote, that would have amended the state’s constitution to legalize marijuana and give control of the market to a small group of producers. Organizers for the current campaign said they drew on lessons learned from that failure in crafting the current initiative.
Bipartisan Ohio lawmakers filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana in May, offering the legislature another opportunity to take the lead on the reform. But it has yet to advance, and now the stage is set for voters to make the choice.