A new survey of Ohio lawmakers suggests that a majority—54 percent—believe voters will approve a ballot initiative next month to legalize marijuana in the state.
The expectation of the imminent end of cannabis prohibition crosses party lines, with majorities of both Democratic (63 percent) and Republican (52 percent) lawmakers saying that Issue 2 will pass—despite the fact that the GOP-controlled Senate recently passed a resolution urging voters to reject the reform.
Nine percent of surveyed lawmakers were undecided.
The survey question polled 35 members of Ohio’s legislature from October 17 to 19. That’s a sample—albeit not a random one—that represents about a quarter (26.5 percent) of Ohio’s 99 House members and 33 senators.
The results are in! See what lawmakers said about the upcoming November elections in the latest Gongwer Werth Poll. https://t.co/AU4FCCwrbW@OHRGOPCaucus@OHHouseDems@OhioSenateGOP@OhioSenateDems@WerthPR pic.twitter.com/kvZMtnuKmF
— Gongwer Ohio (@gongwer) October 23, 2023
The poll is a joint effort between Werth PR and the Gongwer News Service.
The predictions from lawmakers align with the results of a recent survey of likely Ohio voters that found 57 percent support for the legalization measure, including a slim majority of Republicans.
But while Ohio lawmakers might expect the initiative to pass, many Republican elected officials don’t want it to. As early voting kicked off this week, the GOP-controlled Senate passed a resolution urging residents to reject measure.
And if the measure does pass, Senate President Matt Huffman (R) said earlier this month, it’s “coming right back before this body” for lawmakers to amend. Huffman later clarified that he wouldn’t seek to repeal the legalization plan entirely but would instead “advocate for reviewing it and repealing things or changing things that are in it.”
A number of Ohio lawmakers said last month that they doubted the legislature would seek to repeal a voter-passed legalization law. “There are not a majority of legislators in both chambers that would be pro-repeal,” Rep. Ron Ferguson (R) told The Dispatch. “That’s definitely not the case. You would have no Democrats, and there are not enough Republicans to put them in the top.”
Both sides of the campaign have been stepping up messaging and get-out-the-vote efforts as the election draws nearer. Earlier this month, the yes campaign sent cease and desist letters to TV stations airing what organizers called opposition advertisements “filled with lies.” And the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol put out a pro-Issue 2 election ad of its own.
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.
Despite the GOP-led resolution, other Republicans officials in Ohio remain divided on the issue. Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said in August, for example, 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 came to believe 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.”
Unlike the top state Republican lawmakers, U.S. Rep Dave Joyce (R-OH), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said last month that he’ll be voting in favor of the initiative in November. And he encouraged “all Ohio voters to participate and make their voices heard on this important issue.”
If the initiative becomes law, it would bring the total number of states with adult-use legalization to 24.
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.
The Ohio Ballot Board approved summary language for the legalization measure in August.
If approved, legalization could bring in $404 million in annual tax revenue for the state, according to an analysis by researchers at Ohio State University.
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.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.