Group Wants Ohio Lawmakers To Legalize Marijuana Or They’ll Take It To Voters

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (Statehouse News Bureau) — A group hoping to regulate marijuana like alcohol in Ohio has changed its legalization plan. It’s now looking at passing a state law rather than a constitutional amendment.

A leaf from a cannabis plant
A leaf from a cannabis plant [AP]
The plan gives lawmakers four months from when the proposal is submitted to pass it as is, or the group can circulate more petitions to put it before voters.

And Tom Haren with the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol said now is the time.

“If the federal government schedules marijuana and we don’t have a system in place, then marijuana is also scheduled under state law and it becomes totally unregulated. And that’s a bad policy outcome,” Haren said.

The group had said in March it would pursue a constitutional amendment.

And Haren said passing this as a law that can be changed rather than a constitutional amendment that would take another statewide vote to be altered is a better approach.

“This is a brand-new program. It’s a brand-new industry,” Haren said. “So we also wanted to make sure that there was some flexibility to correct things, if three or four years after it’s signed into law, we need to tinker around the edges with some of these components.”

And the signature threshold is much lower for an initiated statute as well – and that would also lower the potential cost.

The proposal goes first to the attorney general for review. Then if the group gets the go-ahead, it would have to gather 130,000 signatures to put the plan before lawmakers and then another 130,000 if lawmakers don’t act on it to put it on the ballot in November 2022. They would have to get more than 440,000 signatures for an amendment.

The proposal regulates growing, manufacture, testing and sale of marijuana for adults over 21, with a 10% tax going to social equity and jobs, to communities that host dispensaries, to addiction treatment and education, and to fund the costs of administering the program.

Adults over 21 would be able to buy and use marijuana and could grow up to six plants per person.

Haren said the Drug Enforcement Policy Center at Ohio State estimates the 10% could bring in $400 million a year in new state revenue. It would go to:

  • 36% to social equity and jobs – up to $150 million estimated a year
  • 36% to communities that host dispensaries– up to $150 million estimated a year
  • 25% to addiction treatment and education – up to $104 million estimated a year
  • 3% to the Division of Cannabis Control that would regulate industry

The last marijuana ballot issue, a constitutional amendment to create a regulate program with 10 growing sites, failed with voters in 2015. But that sparked the state to create a medical marijuana program.

That program has 34 licensed cultivators, 58 dispensaries (54 have certificates of operation), 47 provisional licenses for processors (33 have certificates of operation) and 9 provisional licenses for testing (3 have certificates of operation). There are 215,874 registered patients and 650 doctors who can recommend marijuana for 25 medical conditions. The program has overseen $471.2 million in sales since April 2019.

But critics have said it took too long to become operational, that it’s expensive and hard to navigate, and the restrictions in it have led to a low participation rate.