So far, adult-use cannabis is legal in 23 states and the District of Columbia. Ohio cannabis advocates feel their state is behind the times and needs to catch up to the rest of the country – especially the neighboring states that are getting the tax dollars that could be going to Ohio instead. But the question is, how can they do so?
Cannabis advocates in Ohio aren’t going to sit back and wait for one piece of cannabis reform to fail before they attempt to change directions and pursue other options. In the Buckeye state, there are two ways recreational marijuana could become the law of the land, and both are on the table.
Option One: Legislation
Cannabis advocates aren’t the only group promoting marijuana reform in Ohio. A group of Ohio state lawmakers recently introduced bipartisan legislation to legalize the adult use of cannabis in the state. Ohio House Bill 168 was introduced on May 8th. The measure seeks to legalize recreational marijuana for purchase, possession, and cultivation in the state.
The measure includes provisions allowing Ohioans to possess up to 50 grams of marijuana and no more than 8 grams of cannabis concentrate. It would also allow individuals to keep up to six cannabis plants at home. However, no more than three plants can be mature or flowering. The proposed legislation would also levy a 10 percent sales tax on all cannabis products. The revenue generated from the state tax would be directed to K- 12 education and combating chemical dependency and illegal drug trafficking. Revenue would also go to communities welcoming dispensaries and Ohio’s general fund.
In addition to legalizing recreational cannabis use and cultivation, HB 168 would allow for expunging past low-level, non-violent marijuana cultivation and possession offenses. Advocates claim this move could help ease the strain on law enforcement officers and the Ohio judicial system.
Option Two: Ballot Initiative
The second option for legalizing recreational cannabis in Ohio is a ballot measure. Currently, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is hitting the streets and collecting signatures to put the legalization question on the November ballot, meaning Ohio voters could decide the fate of recreational marijuana. The organization must collect more than 124,000 valid signatures to put the issue in front of voters this fall.
The ballot measure seeks to allow Ohioans 21 and older to possess up to 2 ½ ounces (70.9 grams) of cannabis and up to 15 grams of cannabis extract. It could also allow individuals to keep up to six plants at home or 12 if there is more than one cannabis user at the residence.
Which Option Has the Best Chance of Success?
Although there are two avenues open that would allow Ohioans to cultivate and possess recreational marijuana, each comes with its own set of challenges it must overcome to become the law of the land.
Lawmakers in Ohio have tried to legalize cannabis before. In the last general assembly, lawmakers put up two separate cannabis bills, neither of which ever made it to a full vote. House Bill 382 was proposed in August of 2021, followed by House Bill 498, introduced in December. Neither bill made it out of the House Finance Committee. The new measure, House Bill 168, has been referred to the House Finance Committee, where it sits waiting for a hearing.
House Bill 168 has ten co-sponsors, all Democrats. However, lawmakers are optimistic that the bill could gather enough bipartisan support to stand a chance of going the distance this time around. Ohio state Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-34) says there is broad bipartisan support for the new bill among state representatives. He also hopes legislators feel pressured to “do it their way” instead of waiting for voters to enact their version of cannabis legalization.
The fate of HB 168 is still up in the air. However, so is the fate of the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol’s ballot initiative. The organization is confident it can reach its signature goal, allowing voters to legalize recreational marijuana.
Last year, the initiative hit a roadblock after missing a deadline for state legislators to adopt the proposed recreational cannabis measure. An agreement was reached between the Coalition and Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, House Speaker Bob Cupp, and Senate President Matt Huffman after the Coalition moved forward with legal action. State lawmakers could not agree on whether the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol properly handled the ballot initiative to create a statewide vote. Instead of hitting the 2022 ballot, the measure was instead pushed to 2023, though with 136,729 of the initial signatures intact. Today, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is back at work and attempting to collect the additional 124,000 signatures they need to put recreational cannabis on the November ballot.
In 2015, voters rejected what many considered a flawed ballot initiative to legalize cannabis. The 2015 measure sought to create what essentially would have amounted to a monopoly of the Ohio cannabis market, likely leading voters to reject it. A stronger and more balanced ballot initiative like the one supported by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol could stand a better chance of passing.
Polling conducted by Emerson College and The Hill shows that Ohioans approve of legalizing marijuana by double digits. Fifty percent of those polled were in favor, while 40 percent said they were against cannabis legalization.
Time will tell if lawmakers or the voters will make it to the finish line and enact meaningful cannabis reform in Ohio. However, with two different and appealing options on the table, a positive move forward in the eyes of cannabis reform advocates. And if change does finally come to the Buckeye State, Cannabutter Digest will be there to report on it.
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