With Ohio officials set to certify the ballot language of a marijuana legalization initiative that will appear before voters in November, there are signs of splintering among GOP elected officials in the state, with the governor voicing opposition while a Republican congressman tells Marijuana Moment he plans to vote in favor of the measure
The secretary of state’s office announced on Wednesday that advocates turned in enough signatures to qualify for the ballot, and the next step is for the state Board of Elections at a meeting on Thursday to approve the exact summary that voters will see when they enter their polling booths on Election Day.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) is optimistic that voters will move to end prohibition and enact a regulated cannabis market, with hundreds of thousands of Ohioans having already signed petitions to get the issue on the ballot and polling showing majority support for the reform.
But Gov. Mike DeWine (R) won’t be among those voting “yes” in November, telling his Executive Workforce Board on Thursday that he believes “it would be a real mistake for us to have recreational marijuana,” adding that he visited Colorado following its move to legalize in 2012 and saw what he argued is an “unmitigated disaster.”
“I would just ask people to look what’s happened in other states and see if we really want to bring that to Ohio,” the governor said.
CTRMLA spokesperson Tom Haren told Marijuana Moment on Friday that the campaign “looked to other states” as they crafted the cannabis initiative, drawing from their “best practices” to ensure that Ohio’s marijuana system is positioned to supplant the illicit market, promote public health and generate revenue.
“It’s been 10 years since the first few states took this step, and none have reversed it,” he said. “These programs have been successful. The sky has not fallen.”
He pointed to a recent legislative analysis from Colorado that shows the state took in more tax revenue from marijuana sales than either alcohol or cigarettes in the last fiscal year. Ohio itself stands to generate up to $404 million annually from adult-use cannabis sales, according to an analysis published this week.
While the governor might not count himself among the majority in favor of the legalization proposal, a GOP congressman is officially backing the measure himself.
A spokesperson for Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that he “is supportive of the measure and plans to vote yes.”
That appears to be the first time that the congressman has endorsed the initiative, as he previously said that he needed to review the details when pressed on it during the signature gathering phase of the campaign. He did tell Marijuana Moment late last month that he would have signed the petition to at least get it on the ballot so that voters could decide.
Haren, the campaign spokesperson, said that they are “thrilled to have Congressman Joyce’s support,” and are “grateful” for his advocacy on the issue in Congress, where he’s championed various reform bills and worked to build bipartisan coalitions around legislation to free up banking services for the cannabis industry and take steps to prepared for eventual federal legalization, for example.
“The congressman’s support shows that this is an issue that crosses political lines and is truly non-partisan,” Haren said.
At next week’s Board of Elections meeting, the campaign will be proposing their own ballot summary. The board will consider that and any other suggested language, as well as public testimony, before certifying the final language that voters will see on the ballot.
Activists initially worked to put the legalization initiative on last year’s ballot, but procedural complications prevented that from happening. Activists turned in enough signatures to trigger the legislative review, but the timing of their initial submission was challenged.
CTRMLA filed suit to force ballot placement, but that was unsuccessful with respect to the 2022 election. However, the state agreed to a settlement that meant they would not have to collect the first round of initial signatures again and that the initiative would be immediately retransmitted to the legislature at the start of the 2023 session.
Here are the key provisions of the legalization ballot measure that may 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.
If the measure is ultimately enacted, that would bring the total number of states with adult-use legalization on the books to 24. Ohio voters rejected an adult-use legalization ballot measure in 2015, in large part due to concerns about provisions that many believed would create an unfair monopoly in the market.
A USA TODAY Network/Suffolk University poll that was published in July found that about 59 percent of Ohioans support legalizing the possession and sale of cannabis for adults 21 and older. Just 35 percent are opposed.
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.
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.