After a long road littered with many stumbling blocks along the way, the issue of recreational marijuana looks like it will finally make it to Ohio voters. The Ohio Secretary of State’s office announced that the proposed initiative to legalize recreational marijuana will likely appear on the November ballot.
It’s a significant milestone for marijuana advocates who’ve fought an uphill battle for years to legalize cannabis for recreational use in Ohio. However, it’s a victory that almost never was, thanks to bureaucratic red tape. Only a last-minute hail Mary resurrected the measure, giving voters a chance to decide whether Ohio moves in the same direction as much of the rest of the nation in legalizing recreational cannabis for adult use.
A Last-Minute Push for Recreational Marijuana in Ohio
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol scored a significant victory when the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office recently announced that a proposed initiative to legalize adult-use recreational marijuana will likely appear on the November ballot this year. It was touch-and-go for the coalition after it filed its first petition earlier last month, which was short nearly 700 signatures. The group requested and gained a 10-day extension issued by the state, allowing them additional time to gather more signatures. The coalition collected thousands, surpassing the amount needed to include the measure on the November 7th general election ballot.
Organizers are thrilled the additional signatures were enough to place the measure on the ballot and acknowledge the hard work of their campaign supporters and Ohioans, who they say are ready for common-sense cannabis reform in the state.
Ohio Cannabis Reform – What Does it Mean?
The proposed ballot measure seeks to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio for adults 21 and over. Individuals could legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and up to 15 grams of cannabis concentrates. The proposal would also legalize marijuana cultivation for personal use, allowing adults to grow up to six cannabis plants. Households with more than one adult could grow up to 12 cannabis plants.
Unlike past proposals, if this ballot initiative passes, it would establish a new state agency called the Division of Cannabis Control, which would have the authority to oversee cannabis licensing in Ohio. It would also regulate, investigate, and penalize operators, laboratories, and individuals violating Ohio laws.
Additionally, the measure seeks to tax cannabis at 10 percent, dedicating the tax revenue to state treatment programs, social equity, and jobs programs. Municipalities with licensed recreational cannabis dispensaries could also seek a share of the cannabis tax revenue under the proposal. Essentially, marijuana becomes taxed like alcohol.
However, the ballot initiative lacks language offering the marijuana conviction expungements other states have commonly provided upon legalization. Instead, the measure would carve out a provision to study and potentially fund judicial and criminal reform policies related to marijuana.
A Difficult Road to the Ballot Box
This initiative isn’t the first time the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol attempted to get cannabis reform in front of Ohio voters. In 2022, top Ohio Republicans dashed the hopes of coalition members and cannabis advocates by stifling an earlier ballot initiative attempt. Two lawmakers questioned if the coalition handled efforts to correctly put the measure on the ballot per the Ohio Constitution. The coalition ended up suing the lawmakers. After much back and forth, a settlement between the parties gave the coalition a second chance to pursue the ballot initiative in 2023.
Ohio voters first had the opportunity to legalize marijuana back in 2015. However, many advocates and voters alike viewed the proposal by ResponsibleOhio as flawed and nothing more than a cash grab instead of legitimate cannabis reform. The 2015 proposal would have limited cannabis cultivation to only ten plots of land. Those plot owners would have had exclusive rights to grow cannabis for the Ohio legalized market, creating what many called a marijuana monopoly, giving grow rights and high-value real estate to select landowners.
Does the 2023 Ballot Initiative Stand a Chance?
Cannabis reform failed at the ballot box in 2015. Cannabis reform attempts have also failed in the Ohio legislature. Does this new measure stand a chance with Ohio voters this November? Previous polling by Spectrum News/Siena College says that at least 60 percent of respondents support legalizing recreational adult use of marijuana. However, the most robust support comes from Ohio Democrats, 79 percent of whom say they favor legalization. That’s compared to 58 percent of Republican respondents who support recreational cannabis reform. A Suffolk University/USA Today poll shows roughly the same thing.
Yet, the fate of marijuana legalization in Ohio may be linked to another November ballot issue: reproductive rights. On August 8th, Ohio voters rejected controversial Issue 1. At the last minute, Republican lawmakers called for a special election as they sought to make a major rule change through Issue 1. Issue 1 would have significantly raised the signature and approval threshold for citizens’ initiatives to amend the Ohio constitution. At its heart, Issue 1 was seen as a Republican attempt to quash the passage of an abortion rights measure on the upcoming November ballot that stands the chance of passing under majority rule.
Turnout for the special election was high, and Ohio voters rejected Issue 1. Now, on November 7th, not only will voters have the chance to legalize recreational marijuana, but they can also vote on whether abortion and other reproductive rights like fertility treatments and contraception should be enshrined in the Ohio constitution thanks to the failure of Issue 1. Both initiatives are expected to drive Ohio voters to the polls in droves. And given current polling numbers, it looks like both have a strong chance at success – though only time will tell for sure. So be sure to keep visiting Cannabutter Digest, your source for free, up-to-date info on the state of all things cannabis!