Marijuana initiative could end up on Ohio November ballot alongside reproductive rights amendment

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol is trying to get a citizen-initiative on the ballot that would legalize and regulate cultivation, manufacturing, testing and sale of marijuana to Ohioans 21 and up. 

By: - August 15, 2023 4:55 am

COLUMBUS, Ohio — APRIL 20: Samantha Farrell with Sensible Movement Coalition holds a flag depicting a cannabis leaf at a rally in support of legalized marijuana, April 20, 2023, outside the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)

Legalizing recreational marijuana could be on the November ballot in Ohio alongside the reproductive rights amendment — which could bode well for those hoping to legalize cannabis, legal experts say.

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol is trying to get a citizen-initiative on the ballot that would legalize and regulate cultivation, manufacturing, testing and sale of marijuana to Ohioans 21 and up. 

The coalition came up just short of collecting enough valid signatures and recently submitted an additional 6,545 signatures after the 10-day cure period — nearly ten times the needed amount needed to make up the difference of the needed 124,046 signatures to get on the November ballot. 

Abortion and marijuana

Since the marijuana proposal was submitted through a citizens-initiated statute, it is not an amendment to Ohio’s constitution and was therefore not affected by last week’s 57-43 defeat of Issue 1. But the marijuana initiative could be indirectly affected by the other issue on the November ballot: abortion rights. 

COLUMBUS, Ohio — JULY 05: Tom Haren, spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol speaks with the press while field staffers deliver boxes containing petitions with 222,198 signatures to Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose, July 5, 2023, at the loading dock of the Office of the Ohio Secretary of State, 180 E Broad St in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original article.)

Ohioans will vote on Nov. 7 whether abortion and other reproductive rights such as fertility treatment and contraception should be enshrined in the constitution — which is expected to drive voters to the polls. 

The failure of Issue 1 really, really is going to create a massive turnout in November and the people that I think would be likely to vote on that abortion issue would also be more likely to vote positively on the recreational marijuana issue,” said David Waxman, a Cleveland attorney with the law firm McGlinchey Stafford. 

Those who oppose marijuana might instead focus their efforts on the reproductive rights amendment. 

“Being on the ballot with such a hot issue like abortion, some of the groups that might be willing to fundraise against legalizing adult-use in Ohio are going to be using those resources on the abortion initiative,” said James Sandy, a fellow Cleveland attorney with McGlinchey Stafford. 

The marijuana initiative would also legalize home grow for Ohioans 21 and up with a limit of six plants per person and 12 plants per residence, and impose a 10% tax at the point of sale for each transaction.

Twenty-three states and Washington D.C. have legalized the recreational use and sale of cannabis.

Tom Haren, a spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, doesn’t see sharing a ballot with abortion as an advantage or disadvantage. 

“We have always believed that our issue is popular and will pass no matter the date of the election or who we share the ballot with,” he said. 

A recent Suffolk University/USA Today poll shows 59% of Ohio voters support Ohioans 21 and older buying and possessing marijuana. It showed 77% of Democrats, 63% of independents and 40% of Republicans support the issue. 

“I think people who go out to vote in November are likely to support us no matter what they vote on the abortion amendment,” Haren said. “I think we will be popular among those who vote yes (on the abortion rights amendment) and we’re going to be popular among those who vote no (on the abortion rights amendment) as well.”

The Suffolk University/USA Today poll surveyed 500 registered Ohio voters over the phone in July. Their margin of error is +/- 4.4 percentage points.

If marijuana passes

If marijuana ends up on the November ballot and voters pass both the abortion and marijuana initiatives, the attorneys think Ohio’s lawmakers would focus more of their efforts on potential anti-abortion legislation. 

“The advocates have the benefit of sliding in behind the big elephant,” said Perry Salzhauer, an attorney with McGlinchey Stafford. “No one is going to be paying attention to the marijuana in the room. They are going to be looking at the other issue.” 

Legalizing recreational marijuana in Ohio would drive the illicit market out of business, Haren said. 

“We are going to give consumers an alternative to that illicit market,” he said. “We are going to make sure that consumers have a choice to buy their cannabis products from a relegated dispensary where they know their products are tested.” 

It could also generate money for Ohio. Ohio State University researchers estimate the potential annual tax revenue generated from adult-use cannabis in Ohio ranges from $276 million to $403 million in year five of an operational adult-use cannabis market.

But even if Ohioans vote in favor of legalizing marijuana, it could take a while for the program to get up and running. 

“I would say two, three, four years before the first adult-use sale happens in Ohio, even if it passes,” Salzhauer said. 

Ohio legalized medical marijuana in 2016, but the first dispensary didn’t open until 2019.

If marijuana doesn’t pass

Even if adult-use marijuana doesn’t pass or even make it on the November ballot, it doesn’t seem like attempts to legalize marijuana will be going away anytime soon. 

“I think you are going to see another initiated statue,” Waxman said. “I don’t know if you are going to see a push for a constitutional amendment.”

Colorado was the only state that legalized marijuana through a constitutional amendment, Salzhauer said. 

Haren, however, is confident the initiative will get on the ballot and pass. 

“We are going to pass in November, so we’re not really thinking about other alternatives,” he said. “We are laser-focused on getting on the ballot and then doing everything in our power to ensure that we are successful.” 

There is currently a bipartisan bill in the Ohio Statehouse that could also legalize marijuana. 

State Reps. Jamie Callender, R-Concord, and Casey Weinstein, D-Hudson, introduced House Bill 168 in May which would allow Ohioans 21 and older to cultivate, purchase and possess marijuana

Ohioans previously voted against legalizing marijuana. In 2015, there was a citizen-led amendment which would have legalized marijuana for recreational and medical use. But it would have capped commercial cannabis growing to 10 pre-selected sites.

The proposed amendment was clobbered by voters, getting just shy of 36% of votes. The group behind the initiative was ResponsibleOhio.

“2015 is eight years ago,” Haren said. “That’s a lifetime in the cannabis world.” 

Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.



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Megan Henry
Megan Henry

Megan Henry is a reporter for the Ohio Capital Journal and has spent the past five years reporting in Ohio on various topics including education, healthcare, business and crime. She previously worked at The Columbus Dispatch, part of the USA Today Network.