Ohio activists say they will have enough signatures to force the legislature to consider legalizing marijuana by the end of this month. And a lawmaker who is sponsoring a separate reform proposal feels the citizen-led effort could help build momentum for a legislative approach to ending prohibition.
At an event hosted by Ohio State University’s (OSU) Drug Enforcement and Policy Center on Friday, panelists discussed the legalization ballot proposal being spearheaded by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA), as well as a reform bill that Rep. Casey Weinstein (D) introduced this summer.
While it’s only been a few months since Ohio officials cleared the campaign to collect signatures for its measure, CTRMLA spokesperson Tom Haren said that the initial wave of signature gathering “will be completed probably about the end of November.”
The measure that legislators would then be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
Activists must collect 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters for the statutory initiative during this first phase of the effort. If they succeed, the legislature will then have four months to adopt the measure, reject it or adopt an amended version. If lawmakers do not pass the proposal, organizers will then need to collect an additional 132,887 signatures to place the proposal before voters on the ballot in November 2022.
Haren said the primary plan is to get lawmakers to adopt the reform. “To be clear, we’re not really focusing at all about a ballot campaign,” he said.
Rather, activists are “laser-focused as a coalition on engagement with the legislature because we think, and are confident, that once our proposal was firmly within the General Assembly’s hands and it’s something that they have to deal with, that we can move the needle and maybe get some robust and vigorous debates within the legislature on the topic of marijuana reform.”
“It seems like Republicans are more favorable on this issue than we might give Republicans credit for,” he said. “Speaking as a Republican, it’s not terribly surprising to me because it comes down to this is an inevitability. I think most people recognize that.”
To that point, a pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers announced a new bill to legalize cannabis last month. Also, a legislative survey released earlier this month found that Republican lawmakers in the state are more supportive of legalizing marijuana than their Democratic colleagues are.
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Weinstein’s Democratic-led reform bill is another option at the legislature’s disposal. And he said during the panel discussion that the ballot campaign could spur lawmakers to take the issue more seriously.
“I’ll start by saying we’ve reached a tipping point,” the legislator said. “We’ve reached a tipping point where we’re almost at a point where the majority of Americans live in decriminalized or fully legalized states.”
“I’d love to get this done legislatively. It doesn’t mean that I don’t in any way support the ballot initiative,” Weinstein said. “I think an initiated statute is a great way to go because voters want this and, a lot of times, the voters want things and the legislature is holding them back and this is a situation where we’re behind where Ohioans are.”
— Rep. Casey Weinstein (@RepWeinstein) November 19, 2021
“The initiated statute provides the urgency for the legislature to take this up,” he continued. “If we want to have a say as elected officials in what this looks like—it just so happens that my bill and even the Republican bill mirror fairly closely the framework of the the ballot initiative—but that is the ultimate reason for us to move forward and do this through the legislative process.”
As it stands, Weinstein’s legislation has been referred to the House Finance Committee, and so he recommended that supporters reach out to leadership on that panel to make their voices heard about the need to advance this reform.
“We weren’t meeting for quite a while over the summer when we filed the bill. There’s a big backlog of legislation,” he said. “We’re about to start on the capital budget. It’s crowded, right? So that kind of energy and momentum behind it can help. hearing from people on both sides of the aisle can really help us make the case things like this.”
Shaleen Title, CEO of the Parabola Center and a former Massachusetts marijuana regulator who now serves as a distinguished cannabis policy practitioner in residence at OSU, also participated in the panel on Friday.
She said that the Ohio ballot measure and Weinstein’s legislation “reflect a lot of learning between 2012 and now,” referring to when states first started legalizing marijuana.
“I think I would say my my big headline reaction from looking at the proposals is that it’s great to see social equity acknowledged,” she said. “But I think we could do a lot more at this point in 2021 to implement the lessons that we’ve learned especially in places like Massachusetts and California.”
In particular, she raised concerns about giving existing medical cannabis businesses a leg up in the recreational market as a barrier to new entrants’ success. She also suggested that equity applicants be provided with not just licensing set asides but also access to legal and accounting services and technical assistance to help them launch.
Further demonstrating the appetite for reform in Ohio, voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during this month’s election.
Meanwhile, Ohio senators recently filed a bill to expand the state’s medical cannabis program, in party by allowing physicians to recommend marijuana if they “reasonably” believe it could benefit the patient.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.