An Ohio marijuana legalization campaign is just 679 valid signatures short of putting its initiative on the November ballot, sate officials say, but organizers now have 10 additional days to make up the difference to qualify.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) turned in more than 220,000 signatures earlier this month. But the secretary of state’s office said in a letter to the campaign on Tuesday that only 123,367 were verified, several hundred short of the 124,046 signature requirement for ballot measures.
In positive news for CTRMLA, however, the state says that activists did successfully meet a separate county threshold. That rule mandates that petitions for ballot measures must have signatures equaling at least 1.5 percent of the vote in the last gubernatorial election in a minimum of 44 counties. The cannabis campaign met that threshold in 49 counties.
The secretary of state’s office advised that “petitioners are entitled to 10 additional days from the issuance of this notification to file additional valid signatures.”
Tom Haren, CRMLA spokesperson, said in a press release on Tuesday that “it looks like we came up a little short in this first phase, but now we have 10 days to find just 679 voters to sign a supplemental petition—this is going to be easy, because a majority of Ohioans support our proposal to regulate and tax adult use marijuana.”
“We look forward to giving Ohio voters a chance to make their voices heard this November,” he said.
The signatures that were submitted earlier this month represented the second batch that the campaign has turned in to the state.
The first round triggered a four-month legislative review period that lawmakers could have used to act on the issue—but they didn’t, which allowed the campaign to begin collecting the second half of the petitions they needed to make 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.
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A Spectrum News/Siena College Research Institute poll that was released late last year found that 60 percent of Ohioans support legalizing cannabis, though it did not ask respondents about the specific provisions of the ballot proposal. Earlier polling also showed majority Ohio voter support for enacting marijuana legalization at the ballot.
Meanwhile, bipartisan Ohio lawmakers filed a bill to legalize marijuana last month, 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 last month, voters in Helena similarly enacted the reform.
Lawmakers might have given up the chance to legislatively tackle adult-use marijuana legalization before this month’s deadline, but the conservative legislature has been considering major overhauls to the state’s medical cannabis program this session.
Also, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) 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.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.