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Ohio Lawmakers To File First-Of-Its-Kind Marijuana Legalization Bill As Activists Pursue Local Reforms

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Ohio lawmakers are preparing to file a bill to legalize and regulate marijuana in the state. This would mark the first time such a proposal to allow recreational cannabis commerce has been introduced in the legislature.

Rep. Casey Weinstein (D) is sponsoring the legislation alongside Rep. Terrence Upchurch (D). While the text of the measure has not yet been released, the lawmakers circulated a co-sponsorship memo to colleagues on Thursday to shore up support for the effort in advance of its formal introduction.

“Ohioans and Americans are way out ahead on this issue, and the comfort level with first decriminalization and medical marijuana and then full legalization is just so far beyond where legislators are,” Weinstein told Marijuana Moment in a phone interview on Thursday. “This is an effort to close that gap and catch up.”

The bill 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.

A 10 percent excise tax would be imposed on marijuana sales, with revenue first going toward the cost of implementation and then being 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).


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The sponsor says he expects to formally filed the legislation in the next few days once certain outstanding details are finalized.

“There are so many benefits” to legalization, Weinstein said. “There’s the criminal justice angle, there’s benefits to law enforcement and there’s benefits to communities of color, who have taken a disproportional hit on marijuana and now stand to benefit economically from it.”

And expanded access to the plant could further help vulnerable medical communities, he said. As a military veteran himself who knows people who’ve used cannabis to treat conditions like post-traumatic stress disorder—and the son of a woman with multiple sclerosis—part of his advocacy on this issue is personal.

“There are just massive economic benefits that are that can be equitably distributed in the right regulatory regime,” he said. “And, you know, just the civil liberties. I’m a big believer that when you’re not harming others—and really, when you’re not harming yourself—that you have the right to access to marijuana.”

While Gov. Mike DeWine (R) is likely to oppose the effort given his record, he’ll have to contend with the fact that voters across the state have broadly supported reform through local initiatives.

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.

“It’s all part of a critical mass. We’re truly at an inflection point,  both both from what has been happening within Ohio starting in the labs—the cities of Ohio and the municipalities—and what we’ve seen happen nationally,” Weinstein said. “Ohio generally isn’t the first state to do something. We’re more like the 25th or 26th state, right? And that’s okay, by the way—let’s let others test the waters.”

“For this bill, I took best practices from Colorado from Pennsylvania from Illinois and from Michigan and from industry and from different groups about what has worked and what hasn’t, and we think we have crafted a really good bill here,” he said.

Ohio activists had hoped to place a cannabis legalization initiative on the statewide ballot last year, but that effort stalled as the COVID-19 outbreak and resulting public health restrictions made signature gathering all but impossible.

Read the full text of the cosponsorship memo for the Ohio legalization bill below: 

To: All House Members

From: Representatives Casey Weinstein and Terrence Upchurch

Date: Thursday, July 15, 2021

RE: Co-Sponsor Request: Recreational Marijuana

We will soon introduce legislation that would legalize recreational use of marijuana in Ohio. The bill will have four major components: 1) Decriminalization, 2) Marijuana Excise Tax, 3) Commerce and Licensing, and 4) Medical Marijuana.

Decriminalization

The bill will allow for adult cultivation and possession of marijuana and hashish and provides possession limits for those substances. Additionally, it would allow for the possession of marijuana and hashish paraphernalia and include expungement of conviction records for cultivation and possession offenses that are eliminated by the bill. Finally, the bill would prohibit a person under the age of 21 from purchasing marijuana and hashish products at retail and requires cultivators to restrict access to persons under the age of 21.

Marijuana excise tax

The bill would levy an excise tax of 10% on a marijuana retailer’s or microbusiness’s gross receipts from the sale of marijuana. It would require each marijuana retailer and microbusiness to file a return and pay the tax for each calendar quarter in which the retailer or microbusiness has gross receipts from the sale of marijuana. Further, the bill imposes penalties or interest against any taxpayer who fails to file a return or pay the tax. Finally, the bill would distributes tax revenue first to the cover the expenses of administering the tax and then up to $20 million annually for two years for clinical trials researching the efficacy of marijuana in treating the medical conditions of veterans and preventing veteran suicide.

The distribution of remaining tax revenue is as follows:

15% to municipalities with at least one marijuana store, allocated based on the number of stores in each municipality;
15% to counties with at least one marijuana store, allocated based on the number of stores in each county;
35% for primary and secondary (K-12) education;
35% for the repair and maintenance of roads and bridges

Commerce and licensing

The bill would enable the Department of Commerce to oversee commercial marijuana distribution and sales, including licensure of marijuana retailers, marijuana processors, marijuana secure transporters, marijuana safety compliance facilities, and marijuana microbusinesses. The bill would further specify that the bill is not to be construed as authorizing the unsafe or hazardous consumption of marijuana. The bill enables municipalities to restrict the type and number of marijuana establishments operating within the municipality and requires the Department of Commerce to adopt rules related to the licensure of marijuana businesses, as well as the safe cultivation, processing, and distribution of marijuana. The bill imposes restrictions on the cultivation, processing, transportation, and sale of marijuana.

Medical marijuana

The bill would maintain the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program, which authorizes a registered patient with a qualifying medical condition to purchase and use medical marijuana cultivated and sold by entities licensed under the Program.

The bill is nearing completion.

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Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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