Reform advocates in Ohio took a first step toward putting a marijuana legalization initiative before voters this year on Monday.
The “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol” measure would allow adults 21 and older to purchase, possess and cultivate cannabis for personal use. Possession would be capped at one ounce, and individuals could grow up to six plants, three of which could be mature.
The campaign filed a petition to get legalization on the November ballot with the Ohio attorney general one week after the effort was initially reported. The attorney general’s office has 10 days to certify the ballot language.
Under the proposal, the state Department of Commerce would be responsible for regulating the marijuana market and issuing licenses for cannabis businesses.
The legislature would be empowered to impose a special excise tax on marijuana sales. At least 25 percent of that revenue would have to go toward a commission tasked with making recommendations on promoting social equity in the industry. Half of the revenue would be allocated to the “State Local Government Fund” and at least 10 percent would go to local jurisdictions that allow cannabis retail stores to operate.
While individual municipalities would be able to bar marijuana businesses “through the enactment of an ordinance or through an initiated or referred measure,” the issue would be subject to a approval by voters on a local ballot during a general election year.
The proposed constitutional amendment also includes provisions aimed at enhancing social equity. For example, the Department of Commerce would be responsible for conducting a study “to determine whether there has been prior discrimination in the issuance of marijuana-related licenses in Ohio, including whether the effects of marijuana prohibition have contributed to a lack of participation by racial minorities in Ohio’s medical marijuana industry.”
“Adults should be permitted to responsibly consume marijuana,” Tom Haren, general counsel and spokesman for the campaign, said in a press release.
In order to qualify, advocates must collect about 443,000 valid signatures from registered voters by July 1. Considering how late in the game this initiative is launching, and how large of a state Ohio is, signature gathering will likely require extensive funding.
While Ohio voters soundly defeated a measure to legalize cannabis for adult use in 2015, advocate argue that public opinion has shifted demonstrably in favor of the reform move in the years since. What’s more, some traditional allies of reform opposed the previous proposal over concerns that it would give control of the legal supply of marijuana to the very investors who funded the effort to put it on the ballot.
The new petitioners’ committee includes patient advocates, a former NFL player and a mental health specialist.
“Marijuana prohibition has been used to target communities of color for many years in Ohio,” Anthony Riley, a member of the committee who suffers from traumatic brain injuries, said. “In addition to communities of color being targeted, other sick, disabled, and poor Ohioans have been treated unfairly for even trying to use medical marijuana as alternative to opioids.”
“This amendment will help end many biased policies by ending marijuana prohibition, directing tax revenue back to the Local Government Fund, and ensuring poor communities and minorities have a fair chance to participate in Ohio’s new adult use marijuana program,” he said.
Activists across the country are working to put marijuana reform before voters in November.
A marijuana legalization initiative qualified for South Dakota’s ballot in December, and a separate medical cannabis measure will also go before that state’s voters this year.
Mississippi activists collected enough signatures to qualify a medical marijuana legalization initiative for the ballot.
New Jersey’s legislature approved a resolution in December that will put the question of full marijuana legalization to voters.
Read the full text of the Ohio marijuana legalization measure below:
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.