An Ohio lawmaker is warning colleagues that passing legislation to undermine voters’ decision to legalize marijuana in the state will jeopardize their reelection prospects—specifically cautioning against proposals to redirect tax revenue to law enforcement.
Rep. Juanita Brent (D)—who has previously emphasized the need to involve people who’ve been disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization in the legalization implementation process—spoke about the politics of marijuana policy in the legislature during a panel organized by the Ohio State University Drug Enforcement and Policy Center last week.
With a primary election in Ohio coming up next month, Brent said that “if we go against the people in the state of Ohio, I don’t expect any of us to get reelected because we are not going for what the people want.”
“I know sometimes people feel like they know best when it comes to people, but the people who know best is the people who got me here elected and the people who who voted” for legalization, she said.
Fifty-seven percent of Ohio voters passed a legalization measure at the ballot in November, but the Republican governor and GOP leadership has insisted that further changes to the law are needed, particularly as it concerns the timeline for legal sales.
Other proposed changes have proved more controversial, including a push from Gov. Mike DeWine (R) to use cannabis tax dollars to support law enforcement.
Brent said that “what we can do is we allocate this money and make sure that people have access to it, instead of giving all this money to police training.”
“It blows my mind—particularly how much money they want to put towards police training within the state—but particularly for hospital agencies which came out of the Senate. It to me is ridiculous,” she said. “People have told us time and time again when Issue 2 was passed what they want. All we’re doing right now is going against the people’s will.”
“I was elected to office, so I’m not going to go against the people of the state of Ohio,” she said during the discussion, which also involved representatives of the Last Prisoner Project (LPP), Adams Project and Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association.
The conversation happened about one week after Ohio regulators released an initial batch of proposed rules for the state’s adult-use marijuana program, focusing on requirements for applicants seeking to become licensed retailers, as well as certain changes to the medical cannabis system.
The governor has been clear that he wants the legislature to speed up the implementation of the law. He’s criticized the “goofy situation” Ohio is in, where adults 21 and older are able to legally possess and grow marijuana, but there won’t be regulated access until late this year.
The Senate passed a bill in December that would address the issue by allowing existing medical cannabis dispensaries to dually serve patients and adult consumers within 90 days of enactment, in addition to other changes to the initiated statute. But the House hasn’t taken it up, and the chamber is also considering an alternative package.
DeWine also recently signaled that he’d like to see an even quicker turnaround, with legislation that would allow for recreational sales within two months. And he’s separately stressed that he wants to see lawmakers to tackle restrictions for sales of intoxicating hemp-derived cannabinoid products such as delta-8 THC.
The governor, who campaigned against the legalization ballot measure, previously voiced support for the idea of moving marijuana tax dollars to law enforcement—a policy change opposed by advocates who want to maintain funding for social equity initiatives as prescribed under the ballot initiative voters approved.
With respect to the broader legalization implementation debate, some Democratic lawmakers have indicated that they may be amenable to certain revisions, such as putting certain cannabis tax revenue toward K–12 education. But other supporters of the voter-passed legalization initiative are firmly against letting legislators undermine the will of the majority that approved it.
Rep. Gary Click (R) filed legislation in late November 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.
Meanwhile, following voter approval of legalization, the Department of Commerce was quick to publish an FAQ guide for residents to learn about the new law and timeline for implementation.
The commerce department also announced in December that the state’s top alcohol regulator, who previously worked as a prosecutor, would be heading up the new Ohio marijuana regulatory division.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.