An initiative to legalize marijuana will not appear on Ohio’s November ballot, the campaign behind the measure announced on Friday. But activists did reach a settlement with state officials in a legal challenge that will give them a chance to hit the ground running in 2023.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) filed a lawsuit last month seeking declaratory judgement amid concerns that they might be challenged over the timing of the group’s initial signature submission for the reform measure.
But while activists had hoped the court would grant relief to enable them to collect additional signatures for ballot placement this year, they instead reached a compromise with the secretary of state and legislative leaders that puts them on a path to bring the reform measure before voters in 2023.
The process to qualify this measure for the ballot has been complicated, so here’s some background:
Advocates first needed to turn in a first batch of at least 132,887 valid signatures to the state to initiate a process whereby lawmakers would then have four months to consider the proposal and decide whether to act on it. They did that, but the legislature declined to move on reform.
Without legislative action after four months, the campaign would then need to submit another 132,887 signatures to place the issue on the ballot.
That’s what they were prepared to do, until the campaign was made aware of certain conversations among legislative officials and the attorney general’s office about whether the state Constitution would permit ballot placement considering the timeline for the initial signature turn-in and certification by the secretary of state.
It came down to a question of whether the activist-led initiative needed to be submitted and certified within ten days of the start of the legislative session.
In an ideal world for advocates, the court considering their lawsuit would have decided that the initial submission fell within the appropriate timeline and allowed them to begin the second round of signature gathering. Short of that, however, the campaign included in its legal challenge an alternative option whereby the first 132,887 signatures they turned in would be resubmitted at the start of the 2023 legislative session, prompting another four month window for lawmakers to consider advancing the reform.
The state and activists settled on that option, meaning the campaign will be set up to start collecting a second round for ballot placement if lawmakers don’t act again—instead of having to start the whole process all over again.
“The most important thing for us was preserving an opportunity for Ohio voters to decide this issue,” Tom Haren of CTRMLA said in a press release on Friday. “We are delighted to have reached this settlement, which has preserved our initial signatures, provided the General Assembly with a second opportunity to consider the proposed statute, and established a clear path to ballot access in 2023.
“To be certain: we aren’t going anywhere and are undeterred in our goal to legalize cannabis for all adults in Ohio,” he said.
Meanwhile, a pair of Ohio Democratic lawmakers recently filed a bill to legalize marijuana that directly mirrors the proposed initiative that activists are pursuing, but it is not expected to advance in the legislature.
Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D) are sponsoring the legislation, which is virtually identical to the CTRMLA citizen initiative. The lawmakers announced the plan on the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.
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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.
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.
Advocates say that counties have recently certified ballot measures to put local cannabis reform measures before voters in Laurelville and Shawnee, for example.
And voters in Kent—where activists already successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before voters after clearing up a verification error on the part of county officials last year—will also decide on reform this year.
Several other jurisdictions—including Ashville, Canton, Chippewa Lake, Gloria Glens Park, Harbor View, Helena, Lodi, McArthur, New Boston, Otway, Portsmouth, Rarden, Rushville, Rutland, South Webster, Sugar Grove and West Salem—are also actively being targeted by activists with NORML and Sensible Movement Coalition (SMC) for reform measures this year.
The local developments come after voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election, building on a slew of previous local reforms in the state.
Prior to that election, more than 20 jurisdictions across the state had already adopted local statues effectively decriminalizing possession—some of which have been passed by voter initiatives while others were adopted by city councils in major cities like Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.
Read the text of the settlement in the marijuana legalization ballot case below: