GOP Congressman Explains Why He’ll Vote For Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative In November As State Releases Pro And Con Arguments

August 29, 2023 · marijuanamoment.net

As Ohio officials release pro and con arguments for a marijuana legalization initiative that will appear on the November ballot, a GOP congressman who represents the state is applauding the measure and explaining why he will personally be “voting yes.”

In a statement shared with Marijuana Moment on Monday, Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, encouraged “all Ohio voters to participate and make their voices heard on this important issue” now that the legalization measure has been certified for the ballot.

“Having been both a public defender and a prosecutor, I recognized early on that there are better uses of law enforcement resources than pursuing low-level possession convictions,” he said. “Since coming to Congress, I have followed cannabis issues closely and been committed to enacting sensible reforms at the federal level.”

“Modeled after the alcohol industry, which accounts for the unique needs, rights and laws of each state, this proposal establishes a regulatory regime based on the specific desires of individual communities,” he added. “The measure lets communities determine for themselves the best approach to cannabis within their own borders by keeping it out of communities that do not want it. It also allows employers to maintain policies prohibiting employee drug use and keeps cannabis out of the hands of anyone under the age of 21 without the consent of a medical professional.”

The statement comes days after the Ohio Ballot Board unanimously approved the summary language of the initiative that voters will see. The state has since published arguments for and against the measure, written by the campaign and state lawmakers, respectively.

“The genie is not going back in the bottle when it comes to cannabis reform. Today, 47 states have passed laws permitting or decriminalizing cannabis or cannabis-based products,” the congressman, who first told Marijuana Moment about his intention to support the initiative earlier this month, said. “The measure being considered in Ohio is a responsible approach to ensuring products that are sold to consumers are safe, consistent, and effectively regulated. I look forward to voting yes in November.”

Tom Haren, spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA), told Marijuana Moment on Monday that the campaign is “honored to have the support of Republican Congressman Dave Joyce, who has been a leader on common sense cannabis reform in Washington from the time he was first elected.”

“As a former public defender and Geauga County Prosecutor, he no doubt knows that Ohio’s current marijuana policy doesn’t work. One simple mistake can lead to a lifetime of bad consequences, like making it harder to find a job, to get a loan, or to get into college,” Haren said. “While Ohio has a safe and effective medical marijuana program, far too many people are unable to participate, like veterans whose doctors are still prohibited from recommending medical marijuana to treat PTSD or other life-altering conditions. For these people, an adult use program is the only option to access the treatment they need.”

“And as Congressman Joyce mentioned, many states have already successfully implemented similar reforms, generating millions of dollars in new tax revenue as a result,” he said. “We have long believed that Republicans, Democrats, and Independents support regulating the sale of marijuana to adults in Ohio. Congressman Joyce’s endorsement is further proof that Ohioans of all political stripes are ready to vote Yes on 2 in November.”

CTRMLA separately authored a “pro” argument that’s been made available to voters by the secretary of state’s office, outlining benefits of enacting the reform such as new tax revenue from cannabis sales, expanded access for patients and diverting marijuana from the illicit market.

“Our current marijuana laws can ruin lives based on one mistake,” it says. “This measure will end unfairly harsh punishments for minor marijuana offenses, freeing local law enforcement to focus on serious, violent, and unsolved crimes.”

Three GOP Ohio lawmakers—Sens. Terry Johnson (R) and Mark Romanchuk, as well as Rep. William Seitz (R)—penned the “con” argument, saying the legalization proposal is “a bad plan that puts profits over people.”

“It legalizes an addiction-for-profit industry at the expense of our families and poses substantial risks to the public health and safety of all Ohioans, especially children and adolescents, given marijuana’s high potential for abuse,” they wrote, adding that Issue 2 would increase the risk of impaired driving and workplace injuries while undermining the state’s medical cannabis program.

“This is simply a move to commercialize marijuana for billions in profit. It’s today’s version of Big Tobacco,” they said, echoing a common prohibitionist refrain. “We can’t trust this industry. More time and research is needed. A better plan is needed. Let’s not rush a decision that we’ll later regret.”

While the lawmakers dismissed the idea that the legalization measure will generate significant revenue for the state, 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.

Here are the key provisions of the legalization ballot measure that will 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.

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 week. 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.

If the measure is ultimately enacted, that would bring the total number of states with adult-use legalization on the books to 24.

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.

Separately, Gov. Mike DeWine (R), who opposes the legalization measure, 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 week found that just about one in 10 Ohio prosecutors plan to follow suit by independently facilitating relief under the law. (Full Story)

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