As Ohio activists work to collect a final batch of signatures needed to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the state’s November ballot, a new poll shows that a majority of voters back the reform.
The USA TODAY Network/Suffolk University survey, published on Wednesday, found that about 59 percent of Ohioans support legalizing the possession and sale of cannabis for adults 21 and older. Just 35 percent are opposed.
Democrats were the most supportive of the policy change, at 77 percent, followed by independents, 63 percent of whom are on board. Among Republicans, however, just 40 percent back legalizing cannabis.
There was also majority support among voters in every age group, except for those over 65.
“This confirms what we’ve been saying all along: Regulating the possession and sale of marijuana to adults is popular in Ohio,” Tom Haren, spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA), told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday. “Ohioans recognize the regulated markets are better than unregulated markets.”
“They’ve seen that regulation has been successfully implemented in 20-plus states at this point. They know that, in Ohio, we know how to regulate the sale of marijuana,” he said. “We’re building off of an existing medical marijuana infrastructure. So, we take this poll is a confirmation of what we’ve been saying from from day one, that Ohioans are ready to take this step to regulate an adult-use market.”
People who voted for President Joe Biden in the last election were more likely to back the reform (73 percent), compared to those who voted for Donald Trump (46 percent).
The poll also asked voters about who they intended to support in the 2024 presidential election and showed how that overlapped with cannabis legalization positions.
The most supportive said that their preference is Biden (75 percent), Marianne Williamson (75 percent), former Republican New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie (71 percent), Robert F. Kennedy (70 percent). The least supportive said that they were backing former Vice President Mike Pence (25 percent), former Republican South Carolina Gov. Nikki Haley (33 percent), Republican Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (39 percent) and Trump (42 percent).
The survey involved interviews with 50o Ohio voters from July 9-12, with a +/-4.4 percentage point margin of error.
The Ohio secretary of state’s office announced on Tuesday that the campaign behind the legalization initiative came up 679 signatures short to qualify for the ballot, triggering a 10-day curing period that will allow activists to collect enough to make up the deficit by August 4.
Haren said that the campaign is “confident” it will be able to achieve that, adding that he is “incredibly thankful to have such a strong advocacy community” who have reached out to assist in this final push.
— The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (@LikeAlcoholOhio) July 26, 2023
Here are the key provisions of the legalization ballot measure that may appear on the November 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.
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A Spectrum News/Siena College Research Institute poll that was released late last year found that 60 percent of Ohioans support legalizing cannabis, though it did not ask respondents about the specific provisions of the ballot proposal. Earlier polling also showed majority Ohio voter support for enacting marijuana legalization at the ballot.
Meanwhile, bipartisan Ohio lawmakers filed a bill to legalize marijuana last month, 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.
Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Casey Weinstein (D) introduced the Ohio Adult Use Act, which combined and refined prior legalization proposals that the lawmakers pursued last session on a separate partisan basis.
Callender, who sponsored a separate bill to tax and regulate cannabis in 2021, previously cast doubts on the prospects of legislative reform, signaling that he felt the issue would ultimately need to be decided by voters given the recalcitrance of the legislature.
Ohioans have made clear that they’re ready for a policy change during elections in multiple recent cycles. To date, more than three dozen Ohio localities have enacted decriminalization through the local ballot.
Last November, for example, voters five more cities approved local marijuana decriminalization ballot initiatives. And during a primary election last month, voters in Helena similarly enacted the reform.
Lawmakers might have given up the chance to legislatively tackle adult-use marijuana legalization before this month’s deadline, but the conservative legislature has been considering major overhauls to the state’s medical cannabis program this session.
Also, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signed a major criminal justice reform bill in January that will let cities facilitate mass expungements for people with certain drug-related convictions, including marijuana possession of up to 200 grams.
After the law took effect, the mayor of Cleveland said in April that the city will be moving forward with plans to seal thousands of cannabis records.