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Top Ohio Democratic Senator Says House GOP Failure To Speed Up Marijuana Sales Is A ‘Disservice’ To Voters



A top Ohio Democratic senator says GOP House leadership is doing a “disservice” to the public by failing to advance legislation to expedite marijuana sales after voters approved a legalization ballot measure last year.

The criticism is increasingly bipartisan, as Gov. Mike DeWine (R) has similarly pushed the legislature to pave a faster pathway to sales to resolve the “ridiculous” situation Ohio has found itself in—a regulatory limbo where cannabis is legal to possess and grow but access to licensed shops is months away.

“It’s really being held up in the House,” Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D) told WKRC, adding that it’s “really a disservice to the people of Ohio.”

The Senate did pass a bill in December that would address the issue by allowing existing medical cannabis dispensaries to dually serve patients and adult consumers within 90 days of enactment, in addition to other changes to the initiated statute. But the House hasn’t taken it up, and the chamber has also been considering an alternative package.

“Every day that goes by where we don’t have the ability for folks to either go to the medical dispensaries to legally purchase, we also open ourselves up for an illegal market,” Antonio said. “All that time that passes without having these pathways to legal purchase, without having expungements, and that means people who could have this on their record that aren’t able to get jobs, not able to change things in their lives because of having this record.”

House Speaker Jason Stephens (R) said earlier this month that it’s a “complex issue,” after his chamber declined to take up the Senate-passed legislation.

Meanwhile, James Canepa, who was selected to serve as the first superintendent of the Division of Cannabis Control (DCC), says that the legislature’s delayed action could complicate regulators’ work to effectively stand up the new market.

“To test it, to process it, to sell it, to grow it—you need a permit. And there are steps that need to happen. One of the big steps is this rulemaking process,” he said. “The division doesn’t have unilateral authority to decide whatever the rules are going to be.”

“If there’s a challenge, it’s moving down the road crystallizing with a lot of input and a lot of resources and a lot of people’s time. Then somebody deciding that they want to participate in refining it,” he said.

As it stands without additional legislative action, Canepa says he doesn’t expect marijuana businesses to become licensed to sell to adult consumers until September 7, as prescribed under the voter-approved ballot initiative. However, he did say in a separate interview that he expects that as many as 300 shops will be open for business for adult consumers by September 2026.

In an appearance before the Columbus Metropolitan Club on Wednesday, Canepa said he plans to run the cannabis regulatory process in a “professional” and “responsible” manner.

“If stoner culture is what people are hoping for, I’m not your guy. It’s going to be professional. It’s going to be responsible,” he said. “It’s going to be accountable and if diverting and appealing to children, whether it’s advertising labeling packaging, not following the under 21 sales rules, there’s zero tolerance for that.”

Meanwhile, Rep. Juanita Brent (D)—who has previously emphasized the need to involve people who’ve been disproportionately impacted by cannabis criminalization in the legalization implementation process—has been warning colleagues that passing legislation to undermine voters’ decision to legalize marijuana in the state will jeopardize their reelection prospects.

Fifty-seven percent of Ohio voters passed a legalization measure at the ballot in November, but the Republican governor and GOP leadership have insisted that further changes to the law are needed, particularly as it concerns the timeline for legal sales.

In the interim, Ohio regulators recently released an initial batch of proposed rules for the state’s adult-use marijuana program, focusing on requirements for applicants seeking to become licensed retailers, as well as certain changes to the medical cannabis system.

The governor has been clear that he wants the legislature to speed up the implementation of the law. He’s criticized the “goofy situation” Ohio is in, where adults 21 and older are able to legally possess and grow marijuana, but there won’t be regulated access until late this year.

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DeWine has also signaled that he’d like to see legislation that would allow for recreational sales within two months. And he’s separately stressed that he wants to see lawmakers to tackle restrictions for sales of intoxicating hemp-derived cannabinoid products such as delta-8 THC.

The governor, who campaigned against the legalization ballot measure, previously voiced support for the idea of moving marijuana tax dollars to law enforcement—a policy change opposed by advocates who want to maintain funding for social equity initiatives as prescribed under the ballot initiative voters approved.

With respect to the broader legalization implementation debate, some Democratic lawmakers have indicated that they may be amenable to certain revisions, such as putting certain cannabis tax revenue toward K–12 education. But other supporters of the voter-passed legalization initiative are firmly against letting legislators undermine the will of the majority that approved it.

Rep. Gary Click (R) filed legislation in late November that would allow individual municipalities to locally ban the use and home cultivation of cannabis in their jurisdictions and also revise how state marijuana tax revenue would be distributed by, for example, reducing funds allocated to social equity and jobs programs and instead steering them toward law enforcement training.

Meanwhile, following voter approval of legalization, the Department of Commerce was quick to publish an FAQ guide for residents to learn about the new law and timeline for implementation.

The commerce department also announced in December that the state’s top alcohol regulator, who previously worked as a prosecutor, would be heading up the new Ohio marijuana regulatory division.

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Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.

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