A pair of Ohio Democratic lawmakers on Wednesday filed a bill to legalize marijuana that directly mirrors a proposed initiative that activists are pursuing. If the legislature fails to act by next month, advocates can collect additional signatures to put the measure directly before voters on the November ballot.
Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D) are sponsoring the legislation, which is virtually identical to a citizen initiative from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA). The lawmakers announced the plan on the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.
It’s time to legalize marijuana in Ohio. https://t.co/Ily42Bn9DK
— Rep. Casey Weinstein (@RepWeinstein) April 20, 2022
Activists turned in about 133,000 initial signatures for their ballot measure in January, starting a process whereby lawmakers were given four months to act on the proposal. With that window closing—and resistance from GOP leadership—the prospects for legislative reform advancing this session seem slim.
Even so, Weinstein and Upchurch are giving lawmakers another chance to act on the issue before legalization is potentially put to voters in November. If lawmakers don’t take the opportunity to pass the reform by May 28, CTRMLA will need to collect an additional 132,887 valid signatures to qualify for the ballot.
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Weinstein told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Wednesday that he’s under no illusions that leadership will help advance the new bill or even allow it to receive a committee hearing. But he wants to make clear to Ohio voters that “they’ve got a voice in me at the Statehouse on this issue—and I am not going to give up until we get this legalized.”
“We’re three months into a four month window that we have, and we’re ignoring the voters,” he said. “We are shutting out Ohioans, and that’s unacceptable in my view and completely antithetical to our job. And so I had enough and I put forward a legislative vehicle for us to codify this statute.”
“I think voters Ohioans deserve a chance to testify on this bill and for it to go through the legislative process, whether or not it goes to the ballot,” the lawmaker said.
Weinstein and Upchurch filed a separate legalization bill—the first in state history—last summer. But that measure has not advanced. Meanwhile, a GOP legislator who’s sponsoring a different bill to tax and regulate cannabis recently tempered expectations about the chances for legislative reform, signaling that the issue will likely have to be decided by voters.
The provisions of the new bill are meant to mirror that of the CTRMLA ballot initiative.
Here’s what they would accomplish:
Adults 21 and older could purchase and possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates.
They could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum of 12 plants per household.
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).
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 enactment.
The division could issue up to 40 recreational cultivator licenses and up to 50 adult-use retailer licenses, with “preference provided to applicants who have been certified as cannabis social equity and jobs program participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.”
The bill would further 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.
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 advocates have raised 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, the measure does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.
“Legalizing cannabis would create good-paying jobs and generate significant revenue for our state,” Upchurch said in a press release. “We must listen to the overwhelming support from voters and take action to finally legalize cannabis in Ohio.”
My joint! 💯💯 let’s roll https://t.co/TvrMlZZRuT
— State Representative Terrence Upchurch (@tupchurch216) April 20, 2022
Ohio voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative that faced criticism from many reform 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.
Activists suspended a subsequent campaign to place a legalization measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A recent poll found that a slim majority of Ohio voters would support marijuana legalization at the ballot.
There are also local reform efforts underway in Ohio for 2022.
After voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election—which builds on a slew of previous local reforms in the state—campaigns are now targeting several other jurisdictions across the state.
Ohio marijuana activists already 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. That measure is now expected to go before voters this November.
Read the text of the new Ohio marijuana legalization bill below: