The governor of Ohio met with GOP Senate and House leadership on Monday to discuss changes to a voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative that he wants to see implemented before part of the law take effect next month. Meanwhile, a key Democratic lawmaker who has championed cannabis reform says Republicans should have taken the chance to shape policy on the issue months or years ago.
Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said voters shouldn’t expect any “surprises,” and the proposed revisions that are being discussed would still honor the “spirit” of the reform. Potential changes would focus on mitigating youth consumption, reallocating certain tax revenue and increasing resources to prevent impaired driving.
The governor had already previewed the meeting with Senate President Matt Huffman (R) and House Speaker Jason Stephens (R) shortly after last week’s election, which saw voters approve legalization 57-43 percent.
“We have an obligation I believe, to carry that out,” DeWine told reporters following Monday’s discussion.
With respect to possible changes, he said he doesn’t think “there’s any surprises out there,” nor does he think “any of the things that I have suggested that we do really flies in the face of the spirit of what people were voting for.”
“I truly believe that most people went in [to vote] and the issue was, ‘Are we gonna have legal marijuana or we’re not going to have legal marijuana?’ And the details—I’m not sure people got focused on it,” he said. “I have to focus on it because we have to administer it. We have to make sure it actually does, in fact, work.”
The governor stressed the urgency of getting changes to the statutory measure enacted before adult legalization of possession and cultivation becomes legal on December 7, saying you can’t “put the genie back in the bottle” after the fact and saying it “just gives everybody better notice of what the rules are and how this thing will work out” and will be “a lot better for everybody.”
Both the Senate president and House speaker have already discussed their own independent interest in amending the cannabis law, with a focus on THC limits and tax policy. A spokesperson for the Senate GOP majority similarly said that the legislature “may consider amending that statute to clarify some questionable language regarding limits for THC,” and added that “tax rates are an issue.”
The governor acknowledged last week that “what the people have clearly told us is they want legal marijuana in Ohio.”
“We are going to see that they have that, but we’ve also got to live up to our responsibility to all the people in the state of Ohio, whether they voted for it or voted against it…that we do this in a very responsible way, we do it in a respectful way,” he said. “And we do it, frankly, the Ohio way.”
There’s limited time on the calendars of both chambers to introduce and pass legislation to address the governor’s and lawmakers’ concerns before personal possession and cultivation become effective. The Senate is currently only scheduled to meet twice before December 7, and the House has four session days to act.
Rep. Casey Weinstein (D), who has championed cannabis reform in the legislature and sponsored bipartisan legalization legislation, told Marijuana Moment last week that “Ohioans spoke loud and clear” at the ballot on Tuesday.
“We value privacy. We value freedom. We value liberty,” he said. “The leaders in the legislature should heed the call and uphold the will of the voters.”
In a new interview this week, Weinstein said it is “a slap in the face to Ohio voters” to now get involved in setting the rules for legal marijuana only after the ballot measure forced the issue when they could have acted on legislation he filed for the past few sessions.
“Hopefully this teaches them a lesson that bills that have overwhelming bipartisan support deserve hearings,” he said.
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.
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.
For his part, the governor has previously said 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.”
As early voting kicked off late last month, 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 late last month 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 last week 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 last week 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 this week 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.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.