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Ohio GOP Senate President Outlines Plan To Amend Voter-Approved Marijuana Law Next Week, Days Before Legalization Takes Effect



Ohio’s Republican Senate president says his chamber will take the first step toward amending a voter-approved marijuana legalization law at the beginning of next week, with just days left before key provisions of the initiated statute take effect. But the House speaker, for his part, still says he doesn’t necessarily see the urgency.

GOP legislative leaders and Gov. Mike DeWine (R) have been discussing revisions to the cannabis statute ever since voters passed the reform at the ballot last month, with the main focus being on possible changes to provisions concerning tax revenue,  youth prevention and impaired driving.

Two Republican-led bills to amend the legalization law have been introduced so far, but Senate President Matt Huffman (R) said the plan is to take up separate, unrelated House-passed legislation in the Senate General Government Committee on Monday, attach yet-to-be-seen cannabis amendments as an emergency clause and advance the proposal on the floor on Wednesday. The House would then need to concur with the changes.

An emergency clause would mean the bill would require a two-thirds vote instead of a simple majority to pass, but it’d mean the legislation would take effect immediately rather than after a standard 90-day period following signature by the governor. That seems to be the only option if lawmakers want to revise the marijuana law before possession and cultivation become legal on Thursday.

“It would be better for people going forward to know what the law is than people begin spending money or taking actions and then the law changes six months from now or 90 days, you know, a year from now,” Huffman told WCMH.

The expedited timeline might be favorable to the Senate leader and governor, but House Speaker Jason Stephens (R) has maintained that legislators should more thoughtfully address amendments to the initiated statute, even if that takes more time. He’s pointed out that changes to provisions on taxes and advertising, for example, wouldn’t become relevant until later next year given that regulators still need months to develop licensing rules before retailers open shop.

“We are being very thoughtful about the legislation that was passed by the voters,” he said. “We want to be respectful of that. We also want to have the guardrails in place.”

“It doesn’t matter whether it’s marijuana or soybeans or oil, there are certain rules for alcohol, tobacco that these industries have established over decades,” Stephens told WCMH. “And trying to start from scratch is not the easiest thing to do.”

Still, the House speaker said it would be “great” if the revisions to the cannabis law were accomplished through an emergency clause as his Senate counterpart is proposing.

“We are coalescing around some ideas that can gain the support of the majority of the House,” he said, referencing zoning rules for where cannabis businesses could be located as an example.

“One of the things I want to avoid, and a lot of people want to avoid is having marijuana stores everywhere,” Huffman, the Senate president, said. “You can’t open a liquor store anywhere you want. You have to have a permit and the size of your population of your local community determines the number of local liquor permits you have, so I think it has to be somewhat limited.”

The governor, for his part, said he expects to see action in the legislature “shortly.”

“We’ve been having conversations with [lawmakers] about what we’re interested in,” DeWine said. “They’ve told us some of the things they’re interested in, and I think you’ll have some information shortly.”

While some Democratic lawmakers have indicated that they may be amenable to certain revisions, such as putting certain cannabis tax revenue toward K-12 education, other supporters of the voter-passed legalization initiative are firmly against letting legislators undermine the will of the majority that approved it.

NORML recently launched a letter writing campaign, urging Ohio residents to tell their state representatives to “keep your hands off Issue 2.”

“Even before the ink on the new law is dry, some lawmakers are calling on the legislature to amend or even repeal parts of the law. Prohibitionist groups are similarly encouraging lawmakers to take legislative action to thwart the will of the people,” NORML wrote. “We must not let these groups accomplish through backroom deals what they couldn’t accomplish at the ballot box. The will of the majority of Ohio’s voters must be respected.”

Ohio Rep. Juanita Brent (D) recently emphasized that people who’ve been criminalized over marijuana, as well as those with industry experience, should be involved in any efforts to amend the state’s voter-approved legalization law, arguing that it shouldn’t be left up to “anti-cannabis” legislators alone to revise the statute.

Meanwhile, Rep. Gary Click (R) filed legislation this week that would allow individual municipalities to locally ban the use and home cultivation of cannabis in their jurisdictions and also revise how state marijuana tax revenue would be distributed by, for example, reducing funds allocated to social equity and jobs programs and instead steering them toward law enforcement training.

Rep. Cindy Abrams (R) also introduced a bill last month that would revise the marijuana law by putting $40 million in cannabis tax dollars toward law enforcement training annually.

The Senate president said last month that he didn’t think most voters considered the nuances of the cannabis reform proposal when they went to the ballot and instead simply passed it based on the broad belief that marijuana should be legal for adults. He argued, for example, that the majority probably doesn’t support prioritizing cannabis business licensing for people who’ve been disproportionately targeted by criminalization.

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The Ohio Department of Commerce was quick to publish an FAQ guide for residents to learn about the new law and timeline for implementation, though regulators repeatedly noted that the policies may be subject to change depending on how the legislature acts.

Prohibitionist organizations that campaigned against Issue 2, meanwhile, are set on a fundamental undermining of the newly approved law, with some describing plans to pressure the legislature to entirely repeal legalization before it’s even implemented.

For what it’s worth, a number of Ohio lawmakers said in September that they doubted the legislature would seek to repeal a voter-passed legalization law. The Senate president affirmed repeal wasn’t part of the agenda, at least not in the next year.

Voters were only able to decide on the issue after lawmakers declined to take the opportunity to pass their own reform as part of the ballot qualification process. They were given months to enact legalization that they could have molded to address their outstanding concerns, but the legislature ultimately deferred to voters by default.

As early voting kicked off in late October, the GOP-controlled Senate passed a resolution urging residents to reject measure.

Unlike the top state Republican lawmakers, one of the state’s GOP representatives in Congress—Rep. Dave Joyce, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said in September that he would be voting in favor of the initiative in November. He encouraged “all Ohio voters to participate and make their voices heard on this important issue.”

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said in late October he voted in favor of the legalization ballot initiative, calling it a “hard decision” but one that was based on his belief that the reform would promote “safety” for consumers.

Meanwhile, Vivek Ramaswamy, a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, said he voted against a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Ohio because he’s concerned the federal government could “weaponize” criminalization against people who are engaged in state-legal cannabis activities under the “fake” pretense that they’re protected from federal prosecution.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for his part, said recently that Ohio’s vote to legalize marijuana at the ballot is one of the latest examples of how Americans are rejecting “MAGA extremism,” and he added that he’s committed to continuing to work on a bipartisan basis “to keep moving on bipartisan cannabis legislation as soon as we can.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, told Marijuana Moment that “the vote in Ohio was a great big exclamation point on the things we’ve been talking about.”

“We’ve been saying for years how this issue has crested, how it’s got broad momentum, how it is inclusive. It’s sort of like the success with the [Ohio abortion rights] issue—except this was more pronounced,” he said. “We got more votes than the abortion issue. We get more votes than anybody on the ballot.”

The White House has separately said that “nothing has changed” with President Joe Biden’s stance on marijuana, declining to say if he supports Ohio’s vote to legalize or whether he backs further reform of federal cannabis laws.

Meanwhile, as Ohio voters approved statewide legalization, activists also chalked up a series of little-noticed wins to decriminalize larger amounts of cannabis in three Ohio cities, according to preliminary county election results.

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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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