Ohio marijuana activists have successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials.
The Portage County Board of Elections initially told the Sensible Marijuana campaign that they were four signatures short of qualifying the measure to be voted on earlier this month. But activists were skeptical and did their own investigation, ultimately finding that officials incorrectly marked several signatures as invalid.
Mark Brown, a law professor at Capital University, had the idea to reach out to people whose submissions were deemed invalid and have them complete affidavits affirming that they had, in fact, signed a petition in support of placing cannabis reform on the local ballot.
After an independent review, the board announced last month that the campaign had gathered 815 valid signatures, about 10 more than what’s required to secure ballot placement, as The Portager first reported.
The plan at this point is for the elections board to notify the Kent City Council of its findings and see how the local lawmakers want to move forward. They could put the measure before voters at a future election, pass an ordinance legislatively that reflects the Sensible Marijuana initiative or take no action and likely face a legal challenge.
If officials do opt to put the initiative on the ballot, it’s not clear when voters will get the chance to decide on it. Some advocates say it could appear on a May primary ballot, but others think it might need to wait until next November’s general election or perhaps for a separate special election to be held earlier in the year.
Kent was one of several Ohio cities that activists targeted for last month’s election. Voters in seven cities passed the measures, effectively decriminalizing personal marijuana possession.
Twenty-nine jurisdictions across the state have now already adopted local statues effectively decriminalizing possession, some of which have been passed by voter initiatives while others were adopted by city councils.
In most of the municipalities where marijuana was on the ballot last month, the text of the proposal simply said, “shall [jurisdiction] adopt the Sensible Marihuana Ordinance, which lowers the penalty for misdemeanor marijuana offenses to the lowest penalty allowed by State Law?”
Others were lengthier and spelled out changes to local statutes, specifying that “if the amount of the drug involved is less than two hundred grams, possession of marihuana is a minor misdemeanor drug abuse offense” and that “persons convicted of violating this section shall be fined $0.00.”
If Kent does end up enacting decriminalization—either at the ballot or legislatively—it appears it will face some resistance from law enforcement.
Police Chief Nicholas Shearer took issue with the amount of marijuana that would be decriminalized (up to 200 grams) and said people found to be possessing more than two ounces (57 grams) would likely face trafficking charges.
“Regardless of what decriminalization efforts take place here locally in Kent, possession of marijuana is still a violation of state law, and our officers will still be expected to enforce that state law,” he told The Portager.
Advocates are actively pursuing reform at the state level as well, with one campaign saying they will soon have enough signatures to force the legislature to consider legalizing marijuana.
A lawmaker who is sponsoring a separate reform proposal feels the citizen-led effort could help build momentum for a legislative approach to ending prohibition.
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.
While it’s only been a few months since Ohio officials cleared the campaign to collect signatures for its measure, Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol spokesperson Tom Haren said recently that the initial wave of signature gathering “will be completed probably about the end of November.”
The measure that legislators would then be required to consider 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.
Activists must collect 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters for the statutory initiative during this first phase of the effort. If they succeed, the legislature will then have four months to adopt the measure, reject it or adopt an amended version. If lawmakers do not pass the proposal, organizers will then need to collect an additional 132,887 signatures to place the proposal before voters on the ballot in November 2022.
Separately, a pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers announced a new bill to legalize cannabis in October. Also, a recent legislative survey found that Republican lawmakers in the state are more supportive of legalizing marijuana than their Democratic colleagues are.
Meanwhile, Ohio senators recently filed a bill to expand the state’s medical cannabis program, in part by allowing physicians to recommend marijuana if they “reasonably” believe it could benefit the patient.