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Connecticut Senate Approves Marijuana Legalization Bill In Special Session, But Governor Threatens Veto

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Connecticut’s Senate approved a marijuana legalization bill during a special legislative session on Tuesday in a 19–12 vote.

The measure now proceeds to the House, which is expected to take it up on Wednesday. Meanwhile, however, Gov. Ned Lamont (D), who has been broadly supportive of legalization, threatened to veto the proposal over social equity eligibility rules.

Senate lawmakers passed largely similar legislation just a week ago on an even slimmer, 19–12 vote—but hours before the regular session came to a close, House leaders announced they would delay action in that chamber until this week’s special session. They’ve repeatedly said they have the votes to usher in the policy change despite pushback from Republicans and remaining skepticism from some Democrats.

Sen. Gary Winfield (D), who spoke on behalf of the bill during Tuesday’s floor debate, stressed that the bill would not only create and regulate a new industry but also address past criminal drug policies that have disproportionately harmed people of color.

“The conversation about cannabis legalization also is a conversation about policing in certain communities, the way policing has happened,” Winfield said, pointing to “disproportionate contact between communities of color and police, and the outgrowth of that.”

Senate President Martin Looney (D) said cannabis policy needs to be looked at with a “historical view.”

“What has been done to our children in arresting them incarcerating them and branding them with criminal records for decades over possession of small amounts of marijuana and blighting their whole lives?” he asked. “That’s the harm that’s been done to our children by our current regimen of laws.”

At one point during the debate, Lamont’s office issued a statement threatening to veto the legislation over a provision that would let anyone with a past cannabis arrest or conviction receive priority status for a marijuana license regardless of their wealth. An amendment, however, was adopted in an attempt to address that concern by setting an income limit for those applicants.

It was not immediately clear whether the new provision setting an income limit would address the governor’s concerns, however. If House lawmakers approve additional changes, the measure would need to return to the Senate for a concurrence vote before heading to Lamont’s desk.

With Democrats confident that they had enough votes to pass the bill, most of the debate consisted of pushback from Republicans, who oppose the policy change on the grounds it would normalize cannabis use, particularly among young people, and cause public safety problems.

Sen. Dan Champagne (R) repeatedly referred to the bill as “a drug dealer’s dream.”

Others, however, said they felt the latest bill is at least an improvement over past versions.

“I think a lot of the provisions in the amendment move the bill in a positive direction from my perspective,” said Sen. John Kissel (R), “even though I don’t support the legalization of what’s called colloquially recreational use of marijuana.”

The latest version of the legalization plan, SB 1201, was introduced Monday by Looney and House Speaker Matt Ritter (D) and includes some changes from the version passed by the Senate last week.

Perhaps the most significant change to the proposal, however, came in a 288-page amendment introduced shortly before Tuesday’s floor debate by Sen. Gary Winfield (D). Among other revisions, the amendment added language that would expand eligibility for the state’s social equity licensing program to include people with past cannabis arrests or convictions.

Other notable changes from the bill passed last week include a ban on participation in the marijuana industry for certain state employees and officials. The rule would prevent former cannabis regulators, members or employees of the new social equity council, lawmakers and other statewide elected officials from applying for marijuana business licenses for a period of two years after they leave state service.

The new bill also removes a provision that would have let regulators decide whether to continue allowing home cultivation of marijuana for personal use, which is otherwise permitted under the proposal.

Among other revisions, the latest legislation clarifies that product labels must include THC and CBD amounts by package and serving size, directs most fees and taxes to a new state cannabis regulatory and investment account, modifies public records rules, adjusts community service requirements for certain violations and requires that the state Department of Public Health issue annual reports on marijuana-related public health information beginning in 2023.

The bulk of the nearly 300-page bill, however, resembles the version passed last week by the Senate. It would legalize personal possession and use of cannabis by adults 21 and older and eventually launch a regulated commercial cannabis market.

The Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) would be in charge of licensing and regulating cannabis businesses, with legal sales expected to begin in mid-2022.

Half of all business licenses would need to be issued to social equity applicants, defined as people with who have lived in geographic areas disproportionately impacted by the war on drugs as well as those with past cannabis arrests or convictions. A second amendment from Winfield, approved prior to the full floor vote, expanded an income limit for social equity applicants to clarify that no individual who makes more than three times the state’s median income would be eligible for the status.

Equity applicants could also qualify for technical assistance, workforce training and funding to cover startup costs. Much of the revenue from the new commercial market would be reinvested back into communities hit hardest by the drug war.

For residents who don’t want to buy cannabis commercially, home cultivation would also be allowed under the bill—first for medical patients, then eventually for all adults 21 and older.

Here are some key details about the Senate-approved legislation:

  • It would allow adults 21 and older to possess up to 1.5 ounces of cannabis starting on July 1, and it would establish a retail market. Legislative leaders anticipate sales to launch in May 2022, though the bill includes no official start date.
  • Regulators with the Department of Consumer Protection (DCP) would be responsible for issuing licenses for growers, retailers, manufacturers and delivery services. Social equity applicants would be entitled to half of those licenses.
  • A significant amount of tax revenue from cannabis sales would go toward community reinvestment.
  • Home cultivation would be permitted—first to medical marijuana patients and then later to adult-use consumers.
  • Criminal convictions for possession of less than four ounces of cannabis would be automatically expunged beginning in 2023. Expungement would apply to possession convictions from January 1, 2000 through September 15, 2015.
  • Beginning July 1, 2022, individuals could petition to have other cannabis convictions erased, such as for possession of marijuana paraphernalia or the sale of small amounts of cannabis.
  • The smell of cannabis alone would no longer be a legal basis for law enforcement to stop and search individuals, nor would suspected possession of up to five ounces of marijuana.
  • Absent federal restrictions, employers would not be able to take adverse actions against workers merely for testing positive for cannabis metabolites.
  • Rental tenants, students at institutions of higher learning, and professionals in licensed occupations would be protected from certain types of discrimination around legal cannabis use. People who test positive for cannabis metabolites, which suggest past use, could not be denied organ transplants or other medical care, educational opportunities or have action taken against them by the Department of Children and Families without another evidence-based reason for the action.
  • Cannabis-related advertising could not target people under 21, and businesses that allow minors on their premises would be penalized. Licensees who sell to minors would be guilty of a Class A misdemeanor, punishable by up to a year in prison and a $2,000 fine. People in charge of households or private properties who allow minors to possess cannabis there would also face a Class A misdemeanor.
  • Adults 18 to 20 years old who are caught with small amounts cannabis would be subject to a $50 civil fine, although subsequent violations could carry a $150 fine and/or mandatory community service. All possession offenses would require individuals to sign a statement acknowledging the health risks of cannabis to young people.
  • Minors under 18 could not be arrested for cannabis possession. A first offense would carry a written warning and possible referral to youth services, while a third or subsequent offense, or possession of more than five ounces of marijuana, would send the individual to juvenile court.
  • Local governments could prohibit cannabis businesses or ban cannabis delivery within their jurisdictions. Municipalities could also set reasonable limits on the number of licensed businesses, their locations, operating hours and signage.
  • Until June 30, 2024, the number of licensed cannabis retailers could not exceed one per 25,000 residents. After that, state regulators will set a new maximum.
  • Cannabis products would be capped at 30 percent THC by weight for cannabis flower and all other products except pre-filled vape cartridges at 60 percent THC, though those limits could be further adjusted by regulators. Medical marijuana products would be exempt from the potency caps. Retailers would also need to provide access to low-THC and high-CBD products.
  • Products designed to appeal to children would be forbidden.
  • The state’s general sales tax of 6.35 percent would apply to cannabis, and an additional excise tax based on THC content would be imposed. The bill also authorizes a 3 percent municipal tax, which must be used for community reinvestment.
  • Existing medical marijuana dispensaries could become “hybrid retailers” to also serve adult-use consumers. Regulators would begin accepting applications for hybrid permits in September 2021, and applicants would need to submit a conversion plan and pay a $1 million fee. That fee could be cut in half if they create a so-called equity joint venture, which would need to be majority owned by a social equity applicant. Medical marijuana growers could also begin cultivating adult-use cannabis in the second half this year, though they would need to pay a fee of up to $3 million.
  • Licensing fees for social equity applicants would be 50 percent of open licensing fees. Applicants would need to pay a small fee to enter a lottery, then a larger fee if they’re granted a license. Social equity licensees would also receive a 50 percent discount on license fees for the first three years of renewals.
  • The state would be allowed to enter into cannabis-related agreements with tribal governments, such as the Mashantucket Pequot Tribe and the Mohegan Tribe of Indians.

The latest bill also includes changes adopted as an amendment in the Senate last week. Among other revisions, it deleted a section that would have allowed backers of marijuana producers to obtain cultivation licenses without being subject to a lottery and clarifies that a higher percentage of equity joint-venture owners be from disproportionately impacted areas. It also expanded equity provisions of the bill so that 100 percent of profits with joint ventures with existing businesses go to equity partners, rather than the 5 percent in the original bill, and exempted medical marijuana from potency limits that apply to adult-use products.

A fiscal note for the legislation projects that taxes and fees for marijuana would bring in an estimated $4.1 million in additional revenue for the state and municipalities in fiscal year 2022, which would grow over time to a projected annual haul of $73.4 million by fiscal year 2026.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,100 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Lamont, who introduced his own legalization bill earlier this year, urged the legislature to adopt the policy change during a press briefing late last week.

“I have a strong point of view to do whatever it takes to get this over the finish line,” he said. “Around the country, we have red states and blue states that are passing this and doing it in a very careful, regulated way—and I think we’re ready to do the same.”

Some advocates initially criticized an early version of the new bill for failing to include a provision aimed at redressing individual harm caused by the criminal drug war, which disproportionately affected Black and brown people.

A provision that was in the governor’s original bill, SB 888, as well as separate legalization legislation by Rep. Robyn Porter (D), would have granted social equity status to cannabis business license applicants if they or a parent, spouse or child had been arrested or convicted of a past cannabis crime. That criterion was left out of the legislation the Senate passed last week and the new bill when it was introduced on Monday, but Winfield’s striking amendment added it in. Other qualifications for social equity status include residency in low-income or high-unemployment areas or those that have seen disproportionate policing under prohibition.

Jason Ortiz, executive director of Students for Sensible Drug Policy, posted to Facebook on Monday that the initial omission of the clause meant “that the people most impacted by over policing will be will be intentionally taken out of the cannabis equity program.”

“The laws that made my and my community into ‘criminals’ were put there for racist and political reasons,” he wrote. “People have profited from our suffering and our imprisonment. And now they won’t even admit that the people who were locked up deserve a shot at a license.”

“Imagine having multiple years to study one basic concept and on gameday not understanding the foundational concept of social equity,” added Ortiz, who served as a member of the governor’s legalization working group that issued recommendations on social equity late last year.

Ortiz included an image of what appears to be a friends-only Facebook post by Porter, whose own legalization proposal prioritized social equity and reinvestment into communities hit hardest by the drug war. That bill, which was favored by many advocates for its focus on equity, passed the House Labor and Public Employees Committee in March but did not proceed further.

“So, the cannabis bill running tomorrow in the Senate doesn’t have the following language, which is the most CRITICAL component of the ‘social equity applicant definition,'” the post says, referencing the provision about past cannabis records making applicants eligible for social equity status. “We’ve gone from being INTENTIONALLY TARGETED to INTENTIONALLY EXCLUDED. Now, where is the EQUITY in that?”

Those concerns were apparently heard by legislative leaders, however, and the conviction qualifying criteria was added in Winfield’s large-scale amendment that the Senate adopted.

“The notion that those people might not be included in the [social equity] definition—while I don’t believe that’s what the definition did—was problematic for many people that I’ve had conversation with,” Winfield said during floor debate.

Legalization advocates at Marijuana Policy Project cheered the amended bill’s passage.

“I’m grateful that today the Senate reaffirmed their commitment to ending the failed policies of cannabis prohibition,” DeVaughn Ward, senior legislative counsel for the group, told Marijuana Moment in an email. “Legislative leaders, the governor and advocates should be applauded for their efforts as this bill contains some of the strongest equity provisions in the country. I’m hopeful the House will follow the Senate’s lead tomorrow and end the devastating war on marijuana in Connecticut.”

The bill passed by senators on Tuesday is the result of a compromise between legislative Democrats and the governor’s office, and proponents have said it includes elements of both Porter’s HB 6377 and Lamont’s SB 888, which moved through two committees during the regular session.

If a legalization measure isn’t enacted this year, Lamont said last month that the issue could ultimately go before voters.

“Marijuana is sort of interesting to me. When it goes to a vote of the people through some sort of a referendum, it passes overwhelmingly. When it goes through a legislature and a lot of telephone calls are made, it’s slim or doesn’t pass,” the governor said. “We’re trying to do it through the legislature. Folks are elected to make a decision, and we’ll see where it goes. If it doesn’t, we’ll probably end up in a referendum.”

Ritter said late last month that he feels there’s a 57-43 chance that the legislation is approved, whereas he previously gave it a 50-50 chance.

He last year that if the legislature isn’t able to pass a legalization bill, he will move to put a question on the state’s 2022 ballot that would leave the matter to voters.

According to recent polling, if legalization did go before voters, it would pass. Sixty-four percent of residents in the state favor legalizing cannabis for adult use, according to a survey from Sacred Heart University released last month.

The legislature has considered legalization proposals on several occasions in recent years, including a bill that Democrats introduced last year on the governor’s behalf. Those bills stalled, however.

Lamont reiterated his support for legalizing marijuana during his annual State of the State address in January, stating that he would be working with the legislature to advance the reform this session.

The governor has compared the need for regional coordination on marijuana policy to the coronavirus response, stating that officials have “got to think regionally when it comes to how we deal with the pandemic—and I think we have to think regionally when it comes to marijuana, as well.”

Meanwhile in neighboring Rhode Island, a legislative committee on Monday approved a marijuana legalization bill that’s being championed by Senate leadership in that state.

Louisiana Governor Signs Marijuana Decriminalization Bill Into Law

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.

Ben Adlin is a Seattle-based writer and editor. He has covered cannabis as a journalist since 2011, most recently as a senior news editor for Leafly.

Politics

California Senator Seeks Federal Clarification On Medical Marijuana Use In Hospitals

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A California senator is asking the head of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to provide clarification on whether hospitals and other healthcare facilities in legal marijuana states can allow terminally ill patients to use medical cannabis without jeopardizing federal funding.

State Sen. Ben Hueso (D) on Thursday sent a letter to HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra and Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) Administrator Chiquita Brooks-LaSure inquiring about the policy. Confusion about possible implications for permitting marijuana consumption in health facilities led pro-legalization Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) to veto a bill meant to address the issue in 2019.

Hueso refiled a nearly identical version of the legislation for this session, and it’s already passed the full Senate and one Assembly committee. It’s now awaiting action on the Assembly floor before potentially being sent to Newsom’s desk.

“Ryan’s Law would require that hospitals and certain types of healthcare facilities in the State of California allow a terminally-ill patient to use medical cannabis for treatment and/or pain relief,” the senator wrote in the letter to the federal officials, with whom he is asking to meet to discuss the issue. “Currently, whether or not medical cannabis is permitted is left up to hospital policy, and this creates issues for patients and their families who seek alternative, more natural medication options in their final days.”

Hospitals that receive CMS accreditation are generally expected to comply with local, state and federal laws in order to qualify for certain reimbursements. And so because marijuana remains federally illegal, “many healthcare facilities have adopted policies prohibiting cannabis on their grounds out of a perceived risk of losing federal funding if they were to allow it.”

But Hueso said that his office received a letter from CMS several months ago stating that there are no specific federal regulations in place that specifically address this issue and that it isn’t aware of any cases where funding has been pulled because a hospital allows patients to use medical cannabis.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Additionally, because the Justice Department has been barred under annually renewed spending legislation from using its funds to interfere in the implementation of state-level medical marijuana programs, the senator said, “we believe the risk of federal intervention is little to none.”

“This confirmation from CMS been quite a breakthrough and we are optimistic it will alleviate the Governor’s concerns,” the letter continues. “However, I want to underscore that, prior to receiving this response, even the Governor of California was under the impression that CMS rules prohibited hospitals and healthcare facilities from allowing medical cannabis use.”

“Undoubtedly other states are struggling with this issue, too,” it says. “As more states decriminalize cannabis and even create recreational markets, we must not forget to also update the books for the most important consumers of all—patients.”

“While ideally the federal government will remove cannabis from its Schedule I designation, I appreciate that this is a lengthy and complex process. In the interim, it would be extremely helpful if you could provide clarification that assures Medicare/Medicaid providers that they will not lose reimbursements for allowing medical cannabis use on their premises. This clarification would go a long way to help hospital staff, security, above all, patients.”

Becerra, while previously serving as California attorney general and as a member of Congress, demonstrated a track record of supporting marijuana law reform.

Meanwhile, there are efforts in both chambers of Congress to end federal marijuana prohibition.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), Senate Finance Committee Chairman Ron Wyden (D-OR) and Sen. Cory Booker (D-NJ) are currently soliciting feedback on draft legalization legislation they introduced this month.

Meanwhile, a separate House bill to federally legalize marijuana and promote social equity in the industry was reintroduced in May.

The legislation, sponsored by Judiciary Committee Chairman Jerrold Nadler (D-NY), was filed with a number of changes compared to the version that was approved by the chamber last year.

Read the letter from the California senator to Becerra below: 

Marijuana hospital letter t… by Marijuana Moment

Rhode Island House Speaker Says ‘No Consensus’ On Marijuana Legalization, But It’s ‘Workable’

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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Rhode Island House Speaker Says ‘No Consensus’ On Marijuana Legalization, But It’s ‘Workable’

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A top Rhode Island lawmaker says that while there’s not yet a consensus among legislators and the governor on a bill to legalize marijuana, it’s still a “workable” issue and would be prioritized if a special session is convened this fall.

House Speaker Joe Shekarchi (D) told The Public’s Radio that it’s “possible” that a special session will be held later in the year after lawmakers failed to reach a deal on competing reform proposals.

“It really depends if we can come to some kind of resolution of consensus on a couple of major bills,” he said, referring to cannabis and a handful of other issues. “If we can, we certainly would come back.” But if not, members will continue to discuss the proposals and prepare to take them up at the start of the next session in January.

“Unfairly, sometimes I have or the House gets blamed for stopping the legalization of recreational use of marijuana, when in reality there is no consensus,” he said. “If we can come to some closeness, in the several different proposals, then we’ll move some kind of legislation. But if not, it just needs more work—and it’s very workable, so it’s very much something that can happen, we just have to put the effort in and make it happen.”

Listen to the speaker discuss the marijuana legalization plan, about 1:00 into the audio  below: 

Shekarchi similarly told Marijuana Moment in an email earlier this week that he’s “not opposed to the legalization of recreational marijuana,” but “there have been very divergent proposals offered by Representative Scott Slater, the Senate, the governor and various advocacy groups.”

“As I have done with other issues, my role will be to bring the parties together and see if we can reach a consensus,” he said. “I will be working on the issue this summer and fall, and if an agreement can be reached, it is possible that one piece of legislation will be brought before the legislature for future consideration. But there is a lot of work to be done to reach consensus.”

Shekarchi and other top lawmakers have previously said they will work this summer to try to reach a compromise on the differing provisions of the competing legalization plans.

Senate President Dominick Ruggerio (D) said earlier this month that he’s not disappointed the House hasn’t advanced legalization legislation yet and that “what we really wanted to do was send it over and have them take a look at it” when his chamber passed a cannabis reform measure last month.

Shekarchi previously said that he feels reform is “inevitable.”


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

A key disagreement between the House, Senate and governor’s office concerns who should have regulatory authority over marijuana. Ruggerio was pressed on the issue during the recent interview and said members of his chamber agree that “a separate commission is the way to go with respect to this.”

The House and Gov. Dan McKee (D), on the other hand, want the program to be managed by the state Department of Business Regulation (DBR). Ruggerio noted that “it was difficult to negotiate on a bill when the House bill really didn’t come until late in the session.”

Asked whether he felt the legislature and governor could come to an agreement despite the differences, Senate Majority Leader Mike McCaffrey (D) said this month that “that’s what our goal is.”

“Obviously there’s some issues that different people have relative to different categories of licenses and things like that and how we’re rolling them out,” he said. “Are we going to limit them? what type of equity are you going to give to the different people in different communities so that they can get into the business? And social equity and things of that nature.”

McCaffrey was also asked about provisions related to allowing local municipalities to opt out of allowing marijuana businesses to operate in their area. He said “once the legislation is passed and whatever form is passed in, the communities have an opportunity to opt out.”

“They have an opportunity to opt out if the community doesn’t want to participate in it,” he said. “That’s their decision—however, they don’t get the funds that would come from the sales in that community.”

The majority leader also noted that neighboring states like Connecticut and Massachusetts have enacted legalization, and that adds impetus for the legislature to pursue reform in the state. .

Shekarchi, meanwhile, said this month that he doesn’t intend to let regional pressure dictate the timeline for when Rhode Island enacts a policy change. But it is the case that legalization has now gone in effect in in surrounding states like Connecticut and Massachusetts.

“I’m not in any hurry to legalize marijuana for the sake of legalizing it. I want to do it right,” he said. “It doesn’t matter to me if we’re the last state in the union to legalize it or we never legalize it, but I need to do it right.”

Social equity, licensing fees, labor agreements and home grow provisions are among the outstanding matters that need to be addressed, Shekarchi said.

These latest comment come weeks after the state Senate approved a legalization bill from McCaffrey and Health & Human Services Chairman Joshua Miller (D), which was introduced in March. The governor also came out with his own legalization proposal shortly thereafter.

A third Rhode Island legalization measure was later filed on the House side by Rep. Scott Slater (D) and several cosponsors. The House Finance Committee held a hearing on the measure last month.

The governor, for his part, told reporters that while he backs legalization it is “not like one of my highest priorities,” adding that “we’re not in a race with Connecticut or Massachusetts on this issue.”

“I think we need to get it right,” he said, pointing to ongoing discussions with the House and Senate.

The House Finance Committee discussed the governor’s proposal to end prohibition at an earlier hearing in April.

Both the governor and the leaders’ legalization plans are notably different than the proposal that former Gov. Gina Raimondo (D) had included in her budget last year. Prior to leaving office to join the Biden administration as commerce secretary, she called for legalization through a state-run model.

McKee gave initial insights into his perspective on the reform in January, saying that “it’s time that [legalization] happens” and that he’s “more leaning towards an entrepreneurial strategy there to let that roll that way.”

Shekarchi, meanwhile, has said he’s “absolutely” open to the idea of cannabis legalization and also leans toward privatization.

Late last year, the Senate Finance Committee began preliminary consideration of legalization in preparation for the 2021 session, with lawmakers generally accepting the reform as an inevitability. “I certainly do think we’ll act on the issue, whether it’s more private or more state,” Sen. Ryan Pearson (D), who now serves as the panel’s chairman, said at the time.

Meanwhile, the governor this month signed a historic bill to allow safe consumption sites where people could use illicit drugs under medical supervision and receive resources to enter treatment. Harm reduction advocates say this would prevent overdose deaths and help de-stigmatize substance misuse. Rhode Island is the first state to allow the facilities.

The Senate Judiciary Committee also held a hearing in March on legislation that would end criminal penalties for possessing small amounts of drugs and replace them with a $100 fine.

Ohio Lawmakers Officially File Marijuana Legalization Bill In Historic First For The State

Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.

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Ohio Lawmakers Officially File Marijuana Legalization Bill In Historic First For The State

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Ohio lawmakers on Friday formally introduced a bill to legalize marijuana possession, production and sales—the first effort of its kind in the state legislature. This comes as activists are pursuing a separate ballot initiative that would effectively force the legislature to consider similar cannabis reforms.

Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D) filed the legislation, weeks after circulating a co-sponsorship memo to colleagues to build support for the measure.

The 180-page bill would legalize possession of up to five ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older and allow them to cultivate up to 12 plants for personal use. It also includes provisions to expunge prior convictions for possession and cultivation activities that are being made legal under the measure.

A 10 percent excise tax would be imposed on marijuana sales, with revenue first going toward the cost of implementation and then being divided among municipalities with at least one cannabis shop (15 percent), counties with at least one shop (15 percent), K-12 education (35 percent) and infrastructure (35 percent).

“It’s time to lead Ohio forward,” Weinstein said in a press release. “This is a big step for criminal justice reform, for our veterans, for economic opportunity, and for our individual liberties.”

The state Department of Commerce would be responsible for overseeing the program and issuing cannabis business licenses.


Marijuana Moment is already tracking more than 1,200 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.

Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.

Individual municipalities could restrict the type and number of marijuana that operate in their area. The bill specifically states that the state’s existing medical marijuana program would not be impacted by the establishment of an adult-use market.

“This bill is much needed in Ohio, and it’s time for Ohio to become a national leader in marijuana decriminalization and legalization,” Upchurch said. “This bill is more than just about legalization, it’s about economic and workforce development, it’s about decriminalization, and it’s about healthcare! The time is now, and I look forward to getting this done in a bipartisan fashion.”

Gov. Mike DeWine (R) is likely to oppose the effort given his record, but activists have effectively demonstrated through local initiatives that voters in the state broadly support enacting a cannabis policy change.

A newly formed organization called the the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) is also actively collecting signatures for a statewide ballot measure that would separately force lawmakers to consider taking up legalization legislation once a certain signature gathering threshold is met.

“I’m glad to see it! It’s added momentum toward legalization,” Weinstein told Marijuana Moment earlier this week of the ballot effort. “And hopefully a looming ballot initiative will add some incentive for my Republican colleagues to work with me on my bill.”

Meanwhile, 22 jurisdictions have adopted local statues so far that reduce the penalty for low-level cannabis possession from a misdemeanor punishable by jail time and a fine to the “lowest penalty allowed by state law.” And activists are pursuing similar policy changes in dozens of cities this year.

Don Keeney, executive director of NORML Appalachia, told Marijuana Moment that local officials have so far certified decriminalization initiatives in five cities they were targeting this year: Laurelville, McArthur, Murray City, New Lexington and New Straitsville.

Ohio activists had hoped to place a cannabis legalization initiative on the statewide ballot last year, but that effort stalled as the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting public health restrictions made signature gathering all but impossible.

Local advocates sought relief through the court system to make it so they could collect signatures electronically for 2020 ballot initiatives, but the lawsuit was repeatedly rejected—most recently by the U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals for the Sixth Circuit, which ruled on Wednesday that the challenge was no longer relevant because last year’s election has passed and the case was therefore moot.

Read the text of the Ohio marijuana legalization bill below: 

Ohio marijuana legalization… by Marijuana Moment

GOP Senator Sponsoring Marijuana Banking Bill Proposes Controversial Welfare Restrictions For Cannabis Purchases

Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

Marijuana Moment is made possible with support from readers. If you rely on our cannabis advocacy journalism to stay informed, please consider a monthly Patreon pledge.
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