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Ohio Republicans split on marijuana legalization and could repeal proposal the day after it passes

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Ohio Republicans are divided on the effort to legalize marijuana for recreational use in the state.

Just because they belong to the same party doesn’t mean they have to agree on everything — which is exactly what is happening right now with weed.

Recreational marijuana may become legal this November and many Ohio Republicans aren’t happy about it.

“It would be a mistake,” Gov. Mike DeWine said.

He has always been anti-recreational weed. He opposes the ballot issue that would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and up. If passed, Ohioans could also grow up to six marijuana plants. In addition, the proposal would impose a 10% tax at the point of sale for each transaction.

“This product has been developed and its potency is significantly higher than it was years ago,” DeWine said. “It’s not your grandfather’s marijuana or your grandmother’s marijuana.”

Legalization will only tell kids that drugs are okay, the governor added.

“Even though they might not be able to use it until they’re 18 or 21… the message you’re sending to a 13-year-old is, ‘well, look, it’s legal'” he said. “That is reinforced every time the 13-year-old is in the car with mom or dad and they go by a shop — at least in Denver — with a little green man.”

Not everyone in his party feels the same. Statehouse reporter Morgan Trau tried to ask the governor a few times about this.

“I don’t speak for them and they don’t speak for me,” DeWine said, cutting Trau’s question off. Republican state Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) has put forward legislation to legalize adult use. His bill is very similar to the current ballot proposal, which he supports.

“Cannabis has some very legitimate uses, whether it’s pain relief, whether it’s an alternative to alcohol,” Callender said. “I don’t know that we have any business legislating or certainly making criminal.”

He responded to the governor that marijuana may be more potent, but it’s actually safer now.

“Any cannabis that would be sold in any form would be tested in a pharmaceutical quality lab,” Callender added. “And in Mike DeWine’s grandfather’s day — that was not the case.”

Callender isn’t the only supporter either; other GOP lawmakers like Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) support legalization. The approval isn’t limited to state politics.

“Congressman Joyce plans to vote yes and thinks it’s important that all Ohioans make their voices heard in November,” a spokesperson for Congressman Dave Joyce (R-OH) said.

Callender is concerned that even if it passes, Ohioans still won’t get recreational marijuana.

“There are a number of legislators who have publicly commented that they will block marijuana in any way they can and that could possibly mean overturning the will of the voters,” he said.

This is a bad idea, he said.

“I think that would be politically ill-advised — especially after Issue 1 just failed so strongly — for the legislature to override the clear will of the people,” the lawmaker added.

Callender was one of the few Republicans who opposed the unpopular Issue 1 when it was going through the House process to get on the ballot. The Northeast Ohio Republican is also one of the most moderate, which makes sense given his Cleveland-area constituents. He often opposes the most controversial bills, like one restricting health care for transgender youth that also banned trans kids from playing middle and high school sports.

The General Assembly is able to repeal a ballot proposal when the issue is an initiated statute. This differs from the abortion proposal, which is a constitutional amendment.

This means that lawmakers are technically able to repeal the proposal the day after it passes.

When asking Senate President Matt Huffman, avidly anti-marijuana, his team said it was too early to tell, and to let November happen first.

“Those are just not good things that we need to see in the state of Ohio,” DeWine said.

GOP Divide

Despite having a dominant supermajority, Ohio Republicans don’t — or rather can’t — use it.

The House GOP is completely divided due to the speakership “coup” that happened in Jan. Twenty-two Republicans (known “affectionately” by the other faction as the “Blue 22”) voted for state Rep. Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) for speaker, while the majority of Republicans voted for state Rep. Derek Merrin (R-Monclova). Stephens, still a conservative, is more moderate than Merrin.

The anti-Stephens faction has been relentless in fighting Stephens at every opportunity. Stephens has had to rely on Democrats, the majority of the lawmakers who voted for him as speaker, to get his work done — like passing the House rules and the budget.

The latest drama is with the effort to repeal scandal-ridden, taxpayer-funded subsidies for coal plants.


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