Marijuana Is Now Legal In Ohio As Voter-Approved Law Takes Effect, But Lawmakers Are Considering Some Changes

Ohio’s voter-approved marijuana legalization initiative took effect on Thursday, and despite ongoing wrangling by state lawmakers to modify significant portions of the law, some provisions—including legal use, possession and home cultivation of cannabis—have immediate impacts.

Voters solidly approved the legalization ballot measure, Issue 2, on a 57–42 margin last month. But soon after, Republicans in the state Senate indicated their plans to gut the bill by eliminating home grow, reducing legal possession and allowable THC limits, raising sales tax, criminalizing the use and possession of marijuana obtained outside of a licensed retailer and steering funding away from social equity programs and toward law enforcement. Stakeholders said the overhaul would devastate the market, with ACLU of Ohio calling the measure a “demolition of Issue 2.”

As of Wednesday, however, the GOP-controlled Senate abruptly reversed course, and the full chamber instead approved a revised bill that in some ways would expand the voter-approved law. Among other changes, it would allow all adults 21 and older to buy cannabis from existing medical dispensaries in as soon as 90 days, maintain home cultivation rights and provide for automatic expungements of prior convictions.

The bill now goes to the House, where an alternative measure has been introduced. But regardless of how the proposed changes pan out, some reforms have already taken effect with Issue 2 kicking in on Thursday. Here’s a brief rundown of what’s new and what’s still to come in the months ahead.

Is marijuana legal in Ohio now?

Yes, possession and use of cannabis by adults 21 and older is now legal under state law. Commercial activity, including consumer purchases from licensed retailers, isn’t expected to begin until sometime next year. How quickly that happens depends largely on how lawmakers handle proposed changes to the voter-approved system.

Under the law, adults can possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and 15 grams of marijuana concentrates.

What’s the status of home cultivation?

Growing marijuana at home in Ohio is currently legal. Issue 2 as passed by voters allows each adult 21 and older to grow up to six plants, with 12 plants maximum per household. The Senate-passed bill would reduce the household limit to six plants, regardless of how many adults live in the home, but that proposal has yet to become law.

Under current law, cultivation must take place “within a secured closet, room, greenhouse, or other enclosed area in or on the grounds of the residence that prevents access” by people under 21 and isn’t easily visible from a public space.

When do recreational cannabis sales begin?

Under the Senate-approved bill to amend Issue 2, adults would be able to buy marijuana from existing medical dispensaries in as little as three months. That would allow legal sales sooner than under Issue 2’s current plan.

As passed by voters, medical marijuana businesses would get a head-start in the market, with regulators required to begin issuing adult-use licenses within nine months of enactment. For dedicated adult-use retailers, regulators would first need to go through a rulemaking and licensing process for adult-use businesses. Historically, new state markets can take months or even years to begin sales and open sufficiently widely distributed stores to meet consumer demand.

How are consumers supposed to obtain marijuana legally in the meantime?

Sales of marijuana are illegal until the regulated market is up and running, at which point only licensed operators will be able to sell the drug legally. Until then, consumers will technically have to grow their own or rely on sharing without payment, which is also now legal in Ohio among adults 21 and older. Noncommercial transfers between adults are limited to possession amounts: 2.5 ounces of flower and 15 grams of concentrate.

Notably, however, the Senate-passed bill includes a ban on sharing home cultivated marijuana among adults.

Is it legal to make concentrates for personal use?

It depends. Hydrocarbon-based extraction, such as through the use of butane, isn’t allowed by individuals under Issue 2. Other forms of extraction that require less dangerous processes, for example to produce many forms of hash, tinctures and other concentrates, may legally be made at home for now.

Regarding the law’s 15-gram limit on extracts, they’re defined in Issue 2 as substances obtained by “separating or concentrating cannabinoids and other compounds” from cannabis “by physical or chemical means.”

What happens next?

Under current law, a Division of Cannabis Control will be established under the state Department of Commerce. It will have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”

The division is 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.” Regulators can issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.

Regulators are also 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.”

Will past cannabis convictions be expunged?

That’s still not entirely clear, but there are paths for it to happen. As passed by voters, Issue 2 concerned some with its 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 law does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives, including expungements.

The bill passed by the Senate on Wednesday, meanwhile, would provide for automatic expungements of certain prior cannabis-related convictions. That reform, while strongly favored by advocates, was not included in Issue 2 in large part due to a single-subject restriction for ballot measures.

What else is still subject to change?

A lot. Despite seeming more on board with the general will of voters to legalize cannabis than they were just a week ago, Ohio lawmakers are still in the midst of considering sweeping changes to the details of the legal system. Issues include a cap on the number of legal retailers, THC limits separately for flower and concentrates, tax rates and revenue allocation, among others.

Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.—

Because the Senate-passed changes to the existing marijuana law were attached to a non-controversial House-passed measure on alcohol regulations, the measure only needs a concurrence vote in the House. That’s not expected to happen according to the expedited timeline that Senate President Matt Huffman (R) has said he wants, however.

Meanwhile, the House is looking at a different marijuana legalization amendment proposal filed by Rep. Jamie Callender (R). The House Finance Committee took up that legislation—which would preserve home grow and other key components of the voter-passed initiative, while making other changes opposed by advocates—in a hearing on Wednesday.

Separately, Rep. Gary Click (R) filed legislation last week that would allow individual municipalities to locally ban the use and home cultivation of cannabis in their jurisdictions and also revise how state marijuana tax revenue would be distributed by, for example, reducing funds allocated to social equity and jobs programs and instead steering them toward law enforcement training.

Rep. Cindy Abrams (R) also introduced a bill last month that would revise the marijuana law by putting $40 million in cannabis tax dollars toward law enforcement training annually.

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