A top GOP Ohio lawmaker says there’s no need to rush changes to the state’s voter-approved marijuana legalization law, despite the governor’s insistence on getting revisions enacted before possession and cultivation become legal next month. Meanwhile, another Republican legislator has already come out with a bill to change the law by redirecting millions of dollars in cannabis tax revenue toward supporting law enforcement training.
Just one day after meeting with Gov. Mike DeWine (R) to discuss potential amendments to the statutory cannabis law that voters passed at the ballot last week, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R) said on Tuesday that the areas they’re looking to change don’t come into play for nearly another year, meaning there’s no reason lawmakers need to ram them through before the basic legalization provisions become effective on December 7.
Specifically, the governor, Stephens and Senate President Matt Huffman (R) have been talking about potential revisions focused on mitigating youth consumption, reallocating certain tax revenue and increasing resources to prevent impaired driving.
“To do that in the next couple of weeks, it’s going to be a real challenge to put forth such a large program that quickly,” Stephens said, as The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported.
Another state lawmaker, Rep. Cindy Abrams (R), isn’t wasting any time as she proposes her own changes to the legalization law, however. A bill she introduced last week, shortly after voters approved the marijuana measure, would use $40 million in cannabis tax revenue annually to support a law enforcement training fund. Any revenue in excess of $40 million per year would then be distributed according to the statutory initiative.
“The voters did approve Issue 2, and they had their idea of what the tax money was going to be used for,” Abrams said at a press conference on Tuesday. But she questioned if voters “really even know what they actually voted for.”
“Voters I talked to had no idea how the money was going to be used tax-wise. All they cared about is they want to be able to legally smoke marijuana and that’s what they were concerned about,” she said. “It’s just another great example, in my humble opinion, why the debate happens here in Columbus. We talk to our constituents, but at the end of the day, we set the budget—the General Assembly does.”
“Our first responders are going to be the ones who ultimately respond, sadly, to the fatal car crash or the auto accident with injuries or any plethora of 911 calls that are going to come in related to ‘fill in the blank, you’re, you’re impaired,’” she said. “I believe that training saves lives… I don’t care what you do for a living, when you’re well-trained it’s a better outcome. So I am very passionate about having every single police officer—whether you work for Columbus, Cincinnati, or a smaller jurisdiction around our state—to have access to the same training so that you’re getting the same outcome, no matter where you happen to drive through in our state.”
Stephens, for his part, said on Tuesday that while the governor and Republican leaders are talking about reallocating certain marijuana tax revenue to support law enforcement, lawmakers aren’t planning to fully disband with the tax policies articulated in the voter-approved initiative.
“Obviously, we want to respect the will of the voters,” he said, adding that possible amendments to the law don’t “have to be decided by December 6. They “can be decided as we move further down the line,” he said.
The governor has said on several occasions that he does want to see revisions enacted prior to possession and cultivation being legalized early next month. However, he’s stressed that voters shouldn’t expect any “surprises,” and the proposed revisions that are being discussed would still honor the “spirit” of the reform.
Both the Senate president and House speaker have already discussed their own independent interest in amending the cannabis law, with a focus on THC limits and tax policy. A spokesperson for the Senate GOP majority similarly said that the legislature “may consider amending that statute to clarify some questionable language regarding limits for THC,” and added that “tax rates are an issue.”
The governor acknowledged last week that “what the people have clearly told us is they want legal marijuana in Ohio.”
“We are going to see that they have that, but we’ve also got to live up to our responsibility to all the people in the state of Ohio, whether they voted for it or voted against it…that we do this in a very responsible way, we do it in a respectful way,” he said. “And we do it, frankly, the Ohio way.”
There’s limited time on the calendars of both chambers to introduce and pass legislation to address the governor’s and lawmakers’ concerns before personal possession and cultivation become effective. The Senate is currently only scheduled to meet twice before December 7, and the House has four session days to act.
Rep. Casey Weinstein (D), who has championed cannabis reform in the legislature and sponsored bipartisan legalization legislation, told Marijuana Moment last week that “Ohioans spoke loud and clear” at the ballot.
“We value privacy. We value freedom. We value liberty,” he said. “The leaders in the legislature should heed the call and uphold the will of the voters.”
In a new interview this week, Weinstein said it is “a slap in the face to Ohio voters” to now get involved in setting the rules for legal marijuana only after the ballot measure forced the issue when they could have acted on legislation he filed for the past few sessions.
“Hopefully this teaches them a lesson that bills that have overwhelming bipartisan support deserve hearings,” he said.
—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.—
The Ohio Department of Commerce was quick to publish an FAQ guide for residents to learn about the new law and timeline for implementation, though regulators repeatedly noted that the policies may be subject to change depending on how the legislature acts.
Prohibitionist organizations that campaigned against Issue 2, meanwhile, are set on a fundamental undermining of the newly approved law, with some describing plans to pressure the legislature to entirely repeal legalization before it’s even implemented.
For what it’s worth, a number of Ohio lawmakers said in September that they doubted the legislature would seek to repeal a voter-passed legalization law.
Voters were only able to decide on the issue after lawmakers declined to take the opportunity to pass their own reform as part of the ballot qualification process. They were given months to enact legalization that they could have molded to address their outstanding concerns, but the legislature ultimately deferred to voters by default.
For his part, the governor has previously said he believes “it would be a real mistake for us to have recreational marijuana,” adding that he visited Colorado following its move to legalize in 2012 and saw what he described as an “unmitigated disaster.”
As early voting kicked off late last month, the GOP-controlled Senate passed a resolution urging residents to reject measure.
Unlike the top state Republican lawmakers, one of the state’s GOP representatives in Congress—Rep. Dave Joyce, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said in September that he would be voting in favor of the initiative in November. He encouraged “all Ohio voters to participate and make their voices heard on this important issue.”
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said late last month he voted in favor of the legalization ballot initiative, calling it a “hard decision” but one that was based on his belief that the reform would promote “safety” for consumers.
Meanwhile, Vivek Ramaswamy, a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, said he voted against a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Ohio because he’s concerned the federal government could “weaponize” criminalization against people who are engaged in state-legal cannabis activities under the “fake” pretense that they’re protected from federal prosecution.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for his part, said last week that Ohio’s vote to legalize marijuana at the ballot is one of the latest examples of how Americans are rejecting “MAGA extremism,” and he added that he’s committed to continuing to work on a bipartisan basis “to keep moving on bipartisan cannabis legislation as soon as we can.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, told Marijuana Moment last week that “the vote in Ohio was a great big exclamation point on the things we’ve been talking about.”
“We’ve been saying for years how this issue has crested, how it’s got broad momentum, how it is inclusive. It’s sort of like the success with the [Ohio abortion rights] issue—except this was more pronounced,” he said. “We got more votes than the abortion issue. We get more votes than anybody on the ballot.”
The White House has separately said that “nothing has changed” with President Joe Biden’s stance on marijuana, declining to say if he supports Ohio’s vote to legalize this week or whether he backs further reform of federal cannabis laws.
Meanwhile, as Ohio voters approved statewide legalization, activists also chalked up a series of little-noticed wins to decriminalize larger amounts of cannabis in three Ohio cities, according to preliminary county election results.
Photo courtesy of WeedPornDaily.
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