Ohio’s secretary of state has ordered a county election board to certify a local marijuana decriminalization initiative for the November ballot—meaning that three Ohio localities will be deciding on the reform at the same time voters across the state will have the chance to pass a full legalization measure.
Early voting for military and overseas voters began on Friday. And, on top of statewide legalization on the ballot, voters in the villages of Harbor View, Risingsun and Sugar Grove will also see local initiatives to decriminalize possession of up to 200 grams of cannabis for personal use. That’s a higher possession limit than what would be permitted under the statewide legalization initiative, which would allow adults to have up to 2.5 ounces (about 70 grams).
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose (R) intervened to ensure that Harbor View would see decriminalization on the ballot after the Lucas County Board of Elections voted not to certify the activist-led cannabis measure in light of a local prosecutor’s concerns. After a review, he ordered the board to reverse its decision and qualify what is titled “The OG Wild Bill Marihuana Ordinance.”
Chad Thompson, executive director of the Sensible Movement Coalition (SMC) that has worked to qualify local decriminalization measures in dozens of Ohio cities over recent election cycles, told Marijuana Moment that the board’s initial vote “caught us by complete surprise and we didn’t see it coming.”
Lucas County has historically had a “very supportive” election board that “followed the law,” he said. “Thankfully [LaRose] stepped in and corrected them.”
If Ohio voters do approve adult-use legalization this November, Thompson says it remains to be seen whether he’ll personally continue to work on the local decriminalization measures in future elections. He said that the municipal laws do provide added protections given the higher possession limit, but the broader goal of ending prohibition would be largely achieved statewide.
Don Keeney, executive director of NORML Appalachia that worked on getting decriminalization on the Sugar Grove ballot, told Marijuana Moment that his future work on the localized movement depends on whether the legislature attempts to undermine the legalization law if voters enact it.
“With this being a referendum and not a constitutional amendment it can be changed by the Ohio House even after voters approved it. Even reject it,” he said. “So we will see and then go from there. The good fight may not be over yet.”
For what it’s worth, while top officials like the governor and Senate president oppose the reform, some bipartisan legislators are dismissing the idea that there would be enough opposition to enact a full-on repeal.
SMC and NORML Appalachia have notched numerous successes over recent years.
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.
The efforts may have helped lay the groundwork for the upcoming legalization vote, familiarizing voters with the idea of ending cannabis criminalization. A majority of Ohio voters—including a plurality of Republicans—say they support a marijuana legalization initiative, according to a poll that was released late last month.
U.S. Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH), whose panel is set to vote on a bipartisan cannabis banking bill next week, says he’s undecided on how he’ll vote on the Ohio legalization measure. But Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, has affirmed that he will be voting “yes” on Issue 2.
The Ohio Ballot Board approved summary language for the legalization measure late last month. It says the measure would legalize and regulate “the cultivation, processing, sale, purchase, possession, home grow, and use of cannabis by adults at least twenty-one years of age.” And it gives an overview of the regulatory structure of the program, social equity provisions, state-level protections for financial institutions that work with the industry and more.
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.
—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.—
Meanwhile, the Ohio Association of Health Commissioners, which represents Ohio’s 112 local health departments, became one of the latest groups to come out against the initiative last month. The Ohio Children’s Hospital Association and Adolescent Health Association, as well as law enforcement and some business groups, are also urging voters to reject the reform.
A recent economic analysis from researchers at Ohio State University estimated that the reform would bring in up to $403.6 million in annual tax dollars from adult-use marijuana sales if voters approve it.
If the measure is ultimately enacted, that would bring the total number of states with adult-use legalization on the books to 24.
Separately, while the governor opposes legalization, he 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. However, a study published last month found that just about one in 10 Ohio prosecutors plan to follow suit by independently facilitating relief under the law.
Read the Ohio secretary of state’s order to certify a local marijuana decriminalization ballot initiative below:
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
Read More Feedzy