Ohio Republicans Vow to Undermine Will of Voters

November 9, 2023 · MG Magazine

Voters across Ohio approved a ballot measure Tuesday to legalize and regulate recreational cannabis, but leaders in the Republican-majority state legislature already have vowed to make significant changes to the law before Issue 2 goes into effect on December 7.

“This statute was written by the marijuana industry and should be treated as a cash grab for their cash crop at the expense of a state trying to emerge from the opioid epidemic,” Senate President Matt Huffman said Tuesday. “The general assembly may consider amending the statute to clarify the questionable language regarding limits for THC and tax rates as well as other parts of the statute.”

Huffman represents Ohio’s 12th District, comprising the western rural counties of Allen, Mercer, Shelby, and Champaign, as well as portions of Auglaize, Darke, and Logan counties where Issue 2 generally lacked support.

On Tuesday night, House Speaker Jason Stephens suggested the new 10-percent excise tax Issue 2 establishes to benefit social-equity and job-training programs for the cannabis industry should be reallocated to jail construction and law-enforcement training. Issue 2 passed in the small southeast district Stephens calls home.

Because Issue 2 was citizen-initiated, state law gives the legislature authority to make changes—or even repeal the measure altogether—before the legislation takes effect. Prohibitionist groups including Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action (SAM) and Protect Ohio Workers and Families that funded the campaign against the ballot measure raised approximately $442,900 and promised to use their influence and war chests to force the legislature to make wholesale changes. Ohio’s legislature is dominated by conservative Republicans, and Republican Governor Mike DeWine is an outspoken cannabis foe.

“It’s a disappointing development, but nothing’s over. The venue just shifts from the campaign trail to the statehouse,” said Scott Milburn, spokesperson for Protect Ohio Workers and Families. “This ticking time bomb crafted in secret by a Columbus law firm will now be cracked open by the legislature in the full light of day so they can defuse it in an open, public process before it blows up in Ohio’s face.”

“The fight is not over,” said SAM President Kevin Sabet. “They [lawmakers] should eliminate the provisions allowing for commercial sales, advertising, and production, at a minimum. Notwithstanding these changes, SAM will redouble our efforts to ensure Ohio’s leaders create a strong regulatory framework that protects our young people and puts health and safety above the addiction industry’s profits”

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol led the campaign in support of Issue 2 and raised $5.97 million. Tuesday’s vote was a significant milestone in the legal battle that began in January 2022 when GOP Secretary of State Frank LaRose petitioned the general assembly on behalf of the coalition. LaRose’s petition triggered a four-month countdown for legislative action; Republican leaders failed to act, arguing the coalition’s petitions were not submitted in time for the 2022 ballots. After settling a lawsuit over the state’s delays, the coalition agreed to wait until this year for their initiative to make the ballot.

A “yes” vote supported:

  • Allowing the sale and purchase of marijuana. A new division of cannabis control would regulate and oversee the compliance and standardization of marijuana businesses and production.
  • Allowing adults who are at least 21 years old to use and possess marijuana, including up to 2.5 ounces of flower and 15 grams of concentrates.
  • Allowing adults who are at least 21 years old to cultivate up to six marijuana plants at home, while households can cultivate up to 12 plants collectively.
  • Enacting a 10-percent tax on marijuana sales with revenue directed toward establishing a cannabis social-equity and jobs program designed to provide financial support and assistance for license applicants who have been disproportionately affected by past marijuana-related law enforcement.

Unlike in other states that recently legalized adult use, Ohio’s ballot initiative did not include a provision for expungement of past nonviolent cannabis-related crimes.

According to recent analysis by data analysts at BDSA, Ohio cannabis sales grew by 26 percent in 2022 and are on track to reach $520 million by the end of 2023.

“Despite having only a few years of legal [medical] sales under its belt, the Ohio cannabis market has exhibited strong early growth that indicates continued expansion for the future,” the firm stated, adding a projection that adult-use sales would contribute an estimated $300 million to the state’s revenues in the first year alone. “As a result, the total legal cannabis market in Ohio is anticipated to surge to $820 million in 2025 and an impressive $1.65 billion in 2027, establishing Ohio as one of the fastest-growing legal cannabis markets in the United States.” (Full Story)

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