Ohio’s Republican governor is adamant that lawmakers must pass legislation as soon as possible to expedite regulated recreational marijuana sales and also ban purchases of intoxicating hemp products.
With the legislature coming back into session for the new year, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) said “we just need to get something done” to address the adult-use sales rollout timeline under a voter-approved legalization law that took effect last month.
It’s a “strange situation” the state has found itself in, he said, with sales currently set to open up in late summer or early fall. DeWine said he supports a bill the Senate passed last month, which would provide for sales through existing medical cannabis dispensaries within 90 days of enactment. However, he acknowledged the House has a differing version and pushed for lawmakers to “work together and make sure that we can deal with with this problem.”
“Our bill that we would prefer would allow us to start selling this marijuana in a controlled basis. The people who said they were for this said, ‘Let’s do it the same way we do with liquor—control how it’s done,’” he said. “Under our bill, we would be able to sell that very quickly now, early in this year, through the facilities that now do the medical marijuana.”
“My concern is that the status quo will only lead to more black market,” the governor told WKRC. “It will mean more companies popping up, little stores popping up, and selling marijuana.”
He said that his principal concern to that end is that people will assume those unregulated shops are legal and buy cannabis that hasn’t been tested for contaminants or pesticides.
“This is something we have got to get fixed,” he said. “I think we need to have a sense of urgency about this.”
“It’s not acceptable to tell the public, ‘You voted for this and you can’t buy it—you can’t buy it legally, but you can buy it illegally. And what you’re illegally going to buy may be tainted,’” DeWine said. “That’s just not a good situation.”
Advocates have pushed back against other provisions of the Senate plan, which would also involve decreasing the household cap for home-grown marijuana, imposing new THC limits, restricting public consumption, reallocating tax revenue and more.
A separate House bill is considered more palatable to reform supporters, as it’d make less sweeping changes to what voters approved. However, it would ban sharing marijuana between adults, add a cultivator tax and similarly make several changes to the tax revenue distribution.
DeWine previously voiced support for the idea of moving marijuana tax dollars to law enforcement—a policy change opposed by advocates who want to maintain funding for social equity initiatives as prescribed under the ballot initiative voters approved.
The governor is separately reaffirming that he wants to see legislators move quickly to ban sales of intoxicating hemp-derived cannabinoids such as delta-8 THC, which currently exist in a regulatory void.
“They are buying it in gas stations around the state of Ohio. This is a hole that we have the plug,” he said. “We have to make this illegal. We’re seeing kids get into cars under the influence of this stuff. And there’s no real regulation of it all. We have to regulate it.”
“I don’t have the authority, nor do the local police, under current law to stop that from happening,” he said in a separate new interview with WLWT. “We’ve asked the legislature, and I’m asking them, again, give us the authority to stop this.”
With respect to the broader legalization implementation debate, some Democratic lawmakers have indicated that they may be amenable to certain revisions, such as putting certain cannabis tax revenue toward K-12 education. But other supporters of the voter-passed legalization initiative are firmly against letting legislators undermine the will of the majority that approved it.
Ohio Rep. Juanita Brent (D) has emphasized that people who’ve been criminalized over marijuana, as well as those with industry experience, should be involved in any efforts to amend the state’s voter-approved legalization law, arguing that it shouldn’t be left up to “anti-cannabis” legislators alone to revise the statute.
Meanwhile, Rep. Gary Click (R) filed legislation in late November 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.
Following voter approval of legalization, 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.
The commerce department also announced last month that the state’s top alcohol regulator, who previously worked as a prosecutor, would be heading up the new Ohio marijuana regulatory division. (Full Story)