Ohio officials have unanimously approved ballot language for an initiative to legalize marijuana that will appear before voters on the November election.
At a hearing on Thursday, the Ohio Ballot Board voted 5-0 to adopt a summary that was drafted in the past week by the secretary of state’s office, which recently certified that advocates had turned in enough valid signatures to qualify for ballot placement. The board approved the text without discussion. No supporters or opponents testified at the meeting.
The text of the approved summary language for the initiative—designated as Issue 2—says the measure would legalize and regulate “the cultivation, processing, sale, purchase, possession, home grow, and use of cannabis by adults at least twenty-one years of age.”
It explains that a Division of Cannabis Control would be created to “regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”
Further, the summary describes how the initiative would establish a social equity program, protect the identities of people who participate in the adult-use market, maintain employers’ and landlords’ rights to prohibit cannabis use “in certain circumstances,” protect financial institutions that work with licensed marijuana businesses and impose a tax on cannabis sales, with revenue distributed to various accounts.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA), which submitted hundreds of thousands of signatures for their legalization measure over the past month, declined to submit a letter to the secretary of state’s office about the draft language ahead of Thursday’s meeting.
“Unanimous approval by the bipartisan ballot board should assure voters that ‘What they see is what they’ll get,'” CRMLA Spokesperson Tom Haren said in a statement after Thursday’s meeting. “That means: hundreds of millions of dollars in new revenue and stringent regulation like we already have in our existing medical marijuana market. We are looking forward to putting the illicit market out of business this November.”
Signatures for the initiative were submitted in three batches. The first round, submitted last year, triggered a four-month legislative review period that lawmakers could have used to act on the issue—but they didn’t, which allowed the campaign to begin collecting the second half of the petitions they needed to make the ballot.
CTRMLA then turned in another 220,000 signatures last month, but officials determined that they were short 679 valid signatures. They were given 10 days to make up the difference and succeeded, submitting several thousands additional signatures to qualify.
Activists initially worked to put the legalization initiative on last year’s ballot, but procedural complications prevented that from happening. The campaign turned in enough signatures to trigger the legislative review, but the timing of their initial submission was challenged.
CTRMLA filed suit to force ballot placement, but that was unsuccessful with respect to the 2022 election. However, the state agreed to a settlement that meant they would not have to collect the first round of initial signatures again and that the initiative would be immediately retransmitted to the legislature at the start of the 2023 session.
Here are the key provisions of the legalization ballot measure that may appear on the November ballot:
- The initiative 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.
- 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 would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would 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.
- Further, 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 are 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.
Meanwhile, the Ohio Association of Health Commissioners, which represents Ohio’s 112 local health departments, became one of the latest groups to come out against the initiative this week. The Ohio Children’s Hospital Association and Adolescent Health Association, as well as law enforcement and some business groups, are also urging voters to reject the reform.
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If the measure is ultimately enacted, that would bring the total number of states with adult-use legalization on the books to 24.
After the initiative was officially certified last week, U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, told Marijuana Moment that he personally planned to to vote for it this November.
An economic analysis published this month found that Ohio could see up to $403.6 million in annual tax revenue from adult-use marijuana sales if voters approve the legalization ballot initiative.
A USA TODAY Network/Suffolk University poll that was published in July found that about 59 percent of Ohioans support legalizing the possession and sale of cannabis for adults 21 and older. Just 35 percent are opposed.
Meanwhile, bipartisan Ohio lawmakers filed a bill to legalize marijuana in May, offering the legislature another opportunity to take the lead on the reform. But it has yet to advance, and now the stage is set for voters to make the choice.
Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Casey Weinstein (D) introduced the Ohio Adult Use Act, which combined and refined prior legalization proposals that the lawmakers pursued last session on a separate partisan basis.
Callender, who sponsored a separate bill to tax and regulate cannabis in 2021, previously cast doubts on the prospects of legislative reform, signaling that he felt the issue would ultimately need to be decided by voters given the recalcitrance of the legislature.
Ohioans have made clear that they’re ready for a policy change during elections in multiple recent cycles. To date, more than three dozen Ohio localities have enacted decriminalization through the local ballot.
Last November, for example, voters five more cities approved local marijuana decriminalization ballot initiatives. And during a primary election in May, voters in Helena similarly enacted the reform.
Lawmakers might have given up the chance to tackle adult-use marijuana legalization, but the conservative legislature considered major overhauls to the state’s medical cannabis program this session.
Also, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signed a major criminal justice reform bill in January that will let cities facilitate mass expungements for people with certain drug-related convictions, including marijuana possession of up to 200 grams.
After the law took effect, the mayor of Cleveland said in April that the city will be moving forward with plans to seal thousands of cannabis records.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.