Ohioans vote to legalize recreational marijuana by passing Issue 2 law
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol is behind Issue 2, which will go into effect 30 days after the election.
BUCKEYE LAKE, Ohio — AUGUST 17: A marijuana plant in a flowering room, August 17, 2023, at PharmaCann, Inc.’s cultivation and processing facility in Buckeye Lake, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)
Recreational marijuana will soon be legal in Ohio after voters passed Issue 2 on Tuesday. The Associated Press called the election on Issue 2 shortly after 9:30 p.m.
With nearly 99% of precincts reporting early Wednesday, the proposed law was passing with 56.79% of the vote, or 2.144 million voters out of nearly 3.8 million who had cast ballots in the race. That result will remain unofficial until provisional ballots are counted and official results are certified.
This legalizes and regulates the cultivation, manufacturing, testing and the sale of marijuana to Ohioans 21 and up. It also legalizes home grow for Ohioans 21 and up with a limit of six plants per person and 12 plants per residence, and imposes a 10% tax at the point of sale for each transaction.
“Marijuana is no longer a controversial issue,” said Tom Haren, the spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol.
“Ohioans spoke loud,” he said. “They spoke clear. They know that they want a regulated adult use market here in Ohio, they want to get rid of the illicit market, they want to bring that tax revenue back from the state of Michigan, and to bring it in and admit and invest that money right back into their local communities.”
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol is behind Issue 2, which will become law 30 days after the election.
Issue 2 is a citizen initiative, meaning Ohio lawmakers can propose and pass modifications to the new law after the election. Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who opposes legalizing marijuana, does not have the authority to veto a proposal-made law via the ballot, according to the Ohio Constitution.
“With the passage of Issue 2, now is the time for the legislature to lead on how best to allocate tax revenues while responsibly regulating the industry,” Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, said in a statement. “Investing in county jail construction and funding law enforcement training across Ohio should be our top priority to make our communities safer.”
Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman has also been an outspoken critic of Issue 2.
“This statute was written by the marijuana industry and should not be treated as a cash grab for their cash crop at the expense of a state trying to emerge from the opioid epidemic,” Huffman said in a statement. “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.”
Haren didn’t seem concerned about state lawmakers making potential changes to Issue 2.
“This is a landslide victory,” Haren said. “I can’t believe in 2023 we’re actually talking about elected officials not respecting the will of the voters and not respecting the outcome of an election.”
Protect Ohio Workers and Families, the opposition to marijuana legalization, spent the campaign saying Issue 2 would be harmful for Ohioans.
“It’s a disappointing development but nothing’s over, the venue just shifts from the campaign trail to the Statehouse,” Protect Ohio Workers and Families spokesperson Scott Milburn said in a statement.
Protect Ohio Workers and Families predicted Ohio would see an additional 48 fatal vehicle crashes and 2,298 more injury crashes if voters approve Issue 2, based on projections using the Ohio Department of Public Safety’s crash statistics and research from the Insurance Institute of Highway Safety.
Haren, however, chalked up those claims up to “Reefer Madness scare tactics.”
“Regulated markets are the best way to protect public health,” Haren said.
Ohio is the 24th state to legalize recreational use marijuana. Recreational marijuana remains illegal at the federal level and it is a Schedule I drug under the Controlled Substance Act.
More than half of the United States population now lives in a jurisdiction where the possession and use of marijuana is legal, according to the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws.
Issue 2 establishes the Division of Cannabis Control within the Ohio Department of Commerce which will “regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories and individuals required to be licensed.”
The Department of Commerce has nine months to finalize those rules and issue the first round of adult-use licenses, Haren said. He expects both the rule-making process to be complete and the first round of adult use licenses to be issued by August.
The law requires the Division of Cannabis Control to enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to establish a program for cannabis addiction services.
Issue 2 creates five funds in the state treasury: the adult use tax fund, the cannabis social equity and jobs fund, the host community cannabis fund, the substance abuse and addiction fund, and the division of cannabis control and tax commissioner fund.
A recent Ohio State University Drug Enforcement and Policy Center study estimates the potential annual tax revenue from legalizing marijuana ranges from $276 million to $403 million in the fifth year of an operational cannabis market.
“This is money that we’re taking out of the illicit market, that we’re taking back from the state of Michigan, and we’re going to invest it right back into Ohio communities,” Haren said.
Issue 2 almost didn’t make it on the ballot after initially coming up short of collecting enough valid signatures. CRMLA had 10 days to submit additional signatures under Ohio law and the Secretary of State’s office verified the needed additional valid signatures.
“This step towards cannabis legalization signifies a progressive shift and the beginning of a chapter for the state, reflecting the shifting perceptions of cannabis across America,” Lucas McCann, co-founder and chief scientific officer of cannabis consulting firm CannDelta Inc. said in a statement.
“Ohioans will soon see a bolstered state economy, increased job opportunities, and tax revenue that can be reinvested in Ohio’s aging infrastructure like schools and hospitals.”
Issue 2 had a quieter campaign than Issue 1, the constitutional amendment to protect abortion and reproductive rights.
Previous efforts to legalize marijuana
Ohio voters previously struck down a proposed constitutional amendment that would have legalized marijuana in 2015, 64% to 36%.
The 2015 proposed amendment would have created a marijuana monopoly that would have granted “exclusive rights” for commercial marijuana growth, cultivation and extraction to ten predetermined parcels of land.
Ohio’s recreational marijuana program will operate alongside the state’s medical marijuana program, which was legalized in 2016. The first dispensary didn’t open until 2019.
“Issue two was designed not to leave patients behind but to increase access for patients who don’t currently have access within our medical program today,” Haren said.
Today, Ohio has 27 active dispensary licenses, but 107 certificates of operation as of Oct. 30, according to the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program.
Twenty-three cultivators in Ohio have received Level I provisional licenses and 21 have received certificates of operation. Fourteen have received Level II provisional licenses and 13 have received certificates of operation.
Existing medical marijuana cultivators and dispensaries will have the chance to receive an adult-use license.
There have been 844,022 medical marijuana patient recommendations (a patient can have more than one recommendation), as of Sept. 30. 398,057 patients have registered and 184,958 patients have both an active registration and an active recommendation.
Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.
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