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By Kyle Jaeger
Ohio activists have turned in a final batch of signatures to put a marijuana legalization initiative on the November ballot after falling short in a prior submission. The new batch includes more than 6,000 additional signatures on the petition, which a GOP congressman newly told Marijuana Moment he would’ve signed in order to let voters decide on the reform.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) submitted more than 220,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office last month, but officials said last week that they were 679 valid signers short following a verification review. The campaign was then given a 10-day window to close the gap.
With Thursday’s turn-in of 6,545 new signatures, advocates feel confident that they’ve made up the difference by a significant margin, and now they will have to wait for county and state officials to confirm that enough of the signatures were valid.
“This submission validates what we’ve said all along: regulating marijuana is popular in Ohio,” Tom Haren, spokesperson for CTRMLA said. “We’re looking forward to giving Ohio voters a chance to make their voices heard at the ballot this fall.”
Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus who is in Ohio for a district work period, told Marijuana Moment on Wednesday that he “would sign the petition” to let voters decide on legalization. But the campaign ended up submitting the signatures ahead of Friday’s deadline.
The congressman told Marijuana Moment last year that he wasn’t sure how he’d personally vote on the measure and would “like to see what exactly it is.” He added that he’s worked to urge the state legislature to address the issue, noting that it’s more challenging to amend a law enacted through referendum.
“You can either be out in front, take charge of it, put in rules and regulations that everybody can live with—or don’t pitch about the fact that you end up with something you didn’t ask for,” he said at the time.
Joyce also avoided directly answering a question about whether he’d vote for the Ohio legalization measure at a panel in March, saying that he hasn’t “seen it.”
“Until it’s in front of me I’m not going to comment on how I’m going to vote on something,” he said.
Meanwhile, the larger group of signatures that the Ohio campaign submitted last month represented the second batch it has turned in to the state.
The first round, submitted last year, 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.
If the measure is ultimately enacted, that would bring the total number of states with adult-use legalization on the books to 24—making the federal-state cannabis policy schism even wider. Joyce told Marijuana Moment on Thursday that the state movement is precisely why Congress should pass a bipartisan bill he introduced in April with House Minority Leader Hakeem Jeffries (D-NY) to prepare the federal government for an end to prohibition, which would involve an examination of state regulatory models.
“As states continue to explore the merits of legalization, the federal government must respond with a framework that supports states as opposed to one that continues to violate their rights,” he said. “My bill, the PREPARE Act, with Leader Jeffries will do just that.”
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.
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.
Lawmakers might have given up the chance to tackle adult-use marijuana legalization, but the conservative legislature considered 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.