A majority of Ohio voters—including a plurality of Republicans—say they support a marijuana legalization initiative that will appear on the state’s November ballot, according to a new poll.
The survey from Fallon Research & Communications that was released on Tuesday shows that 59 percent of registered voters back the cannabis reform proposal—a positive sign for the campaign that comes days after the Ohio Ballot Board approved final ballot summary language for the initiative.
— Fallon Research (@FallonResearch) August 29, 2023
Notably, this latest survey shows that GOP voters have grown more supportive of the legalization measure, and overall opposition has dipped, compared to the last statewide poll that was conducted by USA Today and Suffolk University in July.
While both surveys found that 59 percent of Ohioans back the reform, Fallon’s puts Republican support at 48 percent, while opposition is at 46 percent. The earlier poll showed that just 40 percent of GOP Ohio voters were in favor of the measure, so this represents a nearly 10 percentage point increase in a short timespan to the extent that the two surveys from the different firms can be compared.
Democrats are the most supportive in the new poll, with 68 percent backing the legalization proposal, the main details of which were included in the question presented to repondents. Another 62 percent of politically unaffiliated voters support the initiative.
The measure also enjoys majority support across racial groups and all age categories except those 65 and older, though there’s still plurality support within that group as well.
The poll involved interviews with 501 registered Ohio voters from August 22-25, with a +/-4.4 percentage point margin of error.
The results are encouraging for advocates, and it seems to affirm a point that the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) has repeatedly made: the issue of legalization is increasingly bipartisan.
The initiative also enjoys more support than a separate November ballot measure on abortion rights, which has slightly smaller majority support at 55 percent, along with a much starker partisan divide than is the case with the cannabis reform.
Ohio officials have also recently released pro and con arguments for the cannabis proposal. And among those who are siding with the pro arguments is U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus who released a statement on Monday explaining why he personally plans to vote in favor of the measure this November.
Also, a recent economic analysis from researchers at Ohio State University estimated that the reform would bring in up to $403.6 million in annual tax dollars from adult-use marijuana sales if voters approve it.
Here are the key provisions of the legalization ballot measure that will appear on the November ballot:
The initiative would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates.
Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).
A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”
The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.
The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.
Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.
Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”
With respect to social equity, some advocates are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, the measure does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.
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If the measure is ultimately enacted, that would bring the total number of states with adult-use legalization on the books to 24.
Meanwhile, bipartisan Ohio lawmakers filed a bill to legalize marijuana in May, offering the legislature another opportunity to take the lead on the reform. But it has yet to advance, and now the stage is set for voters to make the choice.
Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Casey Weinstein (D) introduced the Ohio Adult Use Act, which combined and refined prior legalization proposals that the lawmakers pursued last session on a separate partisan basis.
Callender, who sponsored a separate bill to tax and regulate cannabis in 2021, previously cast doubts on the prospects of legislative reform, signaling that he felt the issue would ultimately need to be decided by voters given the recalcitrance of the legislature.
Ohioans have made clear that they’re ready for a policy change during elections in multiple recent cycles. To date, more than three dozen Ohio localities have enacted decriminalization through the local ballot.
Last November, for example, voters five more cities approved local marijuana decriminalization ballot initiatives. And during a primary election in May, voters in Helena similarly enacted the reform.
Separately, Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who opposes the legalization measure, signed a major criminal justice reform bill in January that will let cities facilitate mass expungements for people with certain drug-related convictions, including marijuana possession of up to 200 grams.
After the law took effect, the mayor of Cleveland said in April that the city will be moving forward with plans to seal thousands of cannabis records. However, a study published last week found that just about one in 10 Ohio prosecutors plan to follow suit by independently facilitating relief under the law.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.