Ballot amendment to legalize marijuana in Ohio submitted for review

Stock photo of cannabis from Getty Images.

Will marijuana become fully legalized in Ohio next year?

That’s the hope of a group behind the proposed “Amendment to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.” The group recently submitted initial paperwork to the Ohio Attorney General office for this constitutional amendment to appear on the 2020 General Election ballot in November. 

The amendment, if passed, would legalize marijuana possession and consumption in mid-2021 for individuals who are at least 21 years old. It would allow the state to enact a special sales tax on marijuana and related products, with most of the proceeds being earmarked toward local governments. 

Though legalizing marijuana on a statewide level, the amendment would allow for some local control and for employers to place their own restrictions on employees’ consumption. 

Ohio already has a relatively new Medical Marijuana Control Program, allowing for residents to consume marijuana if diagnosed with a state-approved medical condition. The proposed constitutional amendment would essentially legalize marijuana for broader medical and recreational purposes. 

Licensed entities operating under the medical marijuana program could carry on if this legalization is enacted; the difference being that dispensers could eventually sell to all Ohioans and not just patients of the medical marjuana program. 

The effort comes five years after Ohio voters rejected an earlier constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana. That 2015 plan known as ResponsibleOhio would have allowed a narrow group of 10 investor-owned facilities to grow and process marijuana. The amendment failed, 64 to 36 percent, with a wide coalition of business, political and law enforcement groups opposing the effort. 

Even among those open to legalized marijuana in Ohio, critics viewed the stated limit on growing facilities as being a “marijuana monopoly.”

This 2020 amendment effort allows for a wider availability for marijuana cultivation, processing, selling and testing. 

Here are some highlights of the proposed constitutional amendment:

Marijuana would be legal (with some limitations)

For those 21 and up, the amendment would legalize possession, consumption, purchasing and transportation of up to one ounce of marijuana. Of this one ounce, up to eight grams can be in the form of marijuana concentrate. 

The legalization would go into effect on July 1, 2021. 

Ohioans could grow marijuana at home (with some limitations)

Ohioans could possess, grow and transport up to six marijuana plants in a given household. Only three of these can be “mature, flowering plants.” The growing is allowed so long as it takes place in an enclosed, locked space, and is not done publicly. The marijuana grown at home cannot be sold. 

The Ohio Department of Commerce would regulate the marijuana industry.

The Department is tasked with adopting the necessary regulations needed to implement legalized marijuana in Ohio. It would determine qualifications for retail/cultivation licenses, packaging requirements, testing standards and the civil penalties for failing to comply with Ohio rules. 

Local governments and employers could still outlaw marijuana usage.

The amendment gives local governments the right to regulate recreational marijuana sales in their location. They could also prohibit the operation of marijuana “establishments” through local ordinance or ballot measure. 

Employers could still restrict employees’ consumption of marijuana. 

Also, the amendment would still allow for a driving under the influence charge if a person is driving while impaired by marijuana consumption. 

Ohio legislators could implement marijuana sales tax, but the $ would be earmarked.

The Ohio General Assembly could choose to pass a special sales tax on marijuana and related products. However, the amendment specifically outlines where much of the proceeds must go. 

Half would go to the State Local Government Fund. Another one-tenth would go to the municipal corporations or townships in which a retail sale occurred. 

One-fourth of the sales tax revenue would go toward a new “Commission on Expungement, Criminal justice, Community Investment and Cannabis Industry Equity and Research.”

What’s next in the process

With the amendment language submitted, the Ohio Attorney General will now review the language to make sure its summary is “fair and truthful” to prospective petitioners. The AG’s office has 10 days (until March 12) to make that judgment.

If the amendment gets the go-ahead, it then heads to the Ohio Ballot Board. This is a five-member group which reviews the amendment to make sure it adheres to the state’s “single-subject rule.”

The board ruled on two other petitions earlier this week. A proposed amendment to change Ohio’s term limits for state legislators was approved as submitted. However, another proposed amendment to change the voter registration system was viewed by a majority on the board to encompass multiple subjects. In the latter case, the board voted to split the voter registration referendum into four separate parts. 

Once approved by the Ohio Ballot Board, the next major step is for amendment backers to begin collecting signed petitions from Ohioans. The required number of eligible petitions needed to get an amendment on the 2020 General Election ballot is 442,958. 

The deadline to submit all of those petitions to the Ohio Secretary of State’s Office is July 1.

Tyler Buchanan
Tyler Buchanan is an award-winning journalist who has covered Ohio politics and government for the past decade. A Bellevue native and graduate of Bowling Green State University, he most recently spent 6 1/2 years as a reporter and editor of The Athens Messenger and Vinton-Jackson Courier newspapers. He is a member of the BG News Alumni Society Board and was a 2019 fellow in the Kiplinger Program in Public Affairs Journalism.