The Ohio attorney general on Friday certified a petition for a marijuana legalization initiative that activists are hoping to place on the state’s 2022 ballot.
After rejecting the summary language of an earlier version because the office deemed it misleading, Attorney General Dave Yost (R) said the summary of this revised petition is “a fair and truthful representation of the proposed statute.”
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) launched its ballot effort last month. This latest development comes as some state lawmakers are also pushing a separate plan to legalize cannabis.
In a press release, the attorney general’s office outlined next steps for the campaign.
First, the Ohio Ballot Board needs to determine whether the initiative meets single-subject standards to qualify for the ballot. Once certified by that body, petitioners must collect an initial batch of signatures that amount to three percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election. Those signatures need to come from at least 44 of the state’s 88 counties.
Further, “for each of those counties, the number must equal at least 1.5 percent of the vote cast in the last gubernatorial election,” the office said.
In a letter to petitioners, Yost said the office “does not offer an opinion of the enforceability or constitutionality” of the cannabis measure.
Ohio voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative, and advocates suspended a campaign to place another measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic. But this round, the campaign is feeling confident that it will prevail once it clears these procedural hurdles.
Unlike past efforts, the new initiative is a statutory, rather that a constitutional, proposal. If supporters collect 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters, the legislature will then have four months to adopt the measure, reject it or adopt and 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 2022.
The proposed law that CTRMLA is pushing 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.
It’s a notable departure from the failed 2015 reform initiative, which faced criticism from advocates because of an oligopolistic model that would’ve granted exclusive control over cannabis production to the very funders who paid to put the measure on the ballot.
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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).
Under the proposal, 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 the enactment of the legislation.
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 advocate 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, it does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.
If the measure does make the ballot, the results of local reform initiatives across the state signal that it could have enough support to be successful.
As it stands, 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, with several having already collected enough signatures to qualify for local ballots.
Meanwhile, Ohio lawmakers late last month formally introduced a bill to legalize marijuana possession, production and sales—the first effort of its kind in the state legislature.
The legislation would 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 will also include provisions to expunge prior convictions for possession and cultivation activities that are being made legal under the measure.
Like the CTRMLA proposal, a 10 percent excise tax would be imposed on marijuana sales. But after covering administrative costs, revenue would be 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).
Gov. Mike DeWine (R) is likely to oppose the legislative effort given his record. But a voter-led initiative could create a different opportunity for advocates.
Ohio is one of numerous states where activists are working to put the question of legalization before voters in 2022.
Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.