BUCKEYE LAKE, Ohio — AUGUST 17: Roger Davis of Grove City works to remove fan leaves from around the flowers before the marijuana plants are dried, 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.)
Don Wirtshafter can’t wait for Dec. 7 — the day marijuana becomes legal in Ohio with the passage of Issue 2.
He is going to celebrate by throwing a party at the Cannabis Museum in Athens, where he is the founder and curator.
“This is a big step forward for Ohio,” said Wirtshafter, who is also an Athens attorney.
Issue 2 — which legalizes and regulates the cultivation, manufacturing, testing and the sale of marijuana to Ohioans 21 and up — received 56.79% of the vote, or 2.183 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.
Issue 2 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.
Since Issue 2 is a citizen initiative, Ohio lawmakers will ultimately have the final say on the law and Ohio Republican lawmakers have already talked about making changes.
“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,” Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman said in a statement.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who was vehemently against legalizing marijuana, has yet to say anything publicly about the election results.
“What you see may not be exactly what you get when all the dust settles once we see how the legislature reacts to this,” said Ohio lawyer Scott A. Johnson with the firm Eastman & Smith.
Cannabis advocates are hoping Ohio lawmakers will listen to what the voters expressed they wanted on Election Day.
Wirtshafter is concerned the 56.62% passage rate is “not wide enough of a margin to deter the Republicans from immediately trying to change what the people decided.”
Morgan Fox, the political director for National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said the first step will be educating Ohio lawmakers on what legalization has looked like in other states and lessons those states have learned along the way.
“It is imperative that elected officials respect the voters’ decision and implement this measure in a manner that is consistent with the sentiments of the majority of the electorate,” Paul Armentano, NORML’s deputy director, said in a statement.
Protect Ohio Workers and Families, the opposition group to legalizing marijuana, isn’t giving up.
“The debate around recreational marijuana is just beginning as the details of this plan come into focus,” they said in a statement Wednesday morning. “That’s why we need you to remain engaged and keep participating.”
Ohio’s cannabis industry
Recreational marijuana won’t go on sale any time soon. Issue 2 establishes the Division of Cannabis Control within the Ohio Department of Commerce, which has nine months to finalize the rule-making and licensing processes for non-medical marijuana.
Ohio’s legal cannabis market is expected to reach $820 million in 2025 and $1.65 billion in 2027, according to BDSA, a market intelligence for the cannabis industry.
Medical marijuana operators in Ohio are looking forward to expanding their businesses.
“Voters have chosen to end Prohibition 2.0 in the Buckeye State,” Ben Kovler, the CEO of Green Thumb Industries, said in a statement. His company operates five RISE dispensaries in Ohio.
“Having operated multiple medical dispensaries in Ohio since 2019 and supported several adult-use transitions in other markets, we are excited to serve even more of the community, fostering positive impacts and education around the plant,” he said.
Rob Vanisko, VP of Public Engagement at Ayr Wellness, has seen medical and recreational markets work alongside each other effectively. Ayr Wellness runs two dispensaries in Ohio and also operates in states that have legalized recreational marijuana including
“People are able to choose their own cannabis journey, whether they want to go the very specific medical route, the more recreational focus … which, I think, is super cool and gives gives folks in the state a ton of options as to how they want to go on their own cannabis journey,” he said.
Forty counties voted in favor of Issue 2 and 48 voted against it. Of Ohio’s 32 Appalachian counties, 12 voted for Issue 2.
Athens County had the highest passage rate with 69.37%, then Franklin with 67.75%, Cuyahoga 66.70% and Hamilton 65.51%.
Putnam County had the lowest votes for Issue 2 with 30.63%, then Holmes with 31.44%, Mercer with 34.23% and Darke with 37.73%.
All seven Ohio counties that voted for President Joe Biden voted to pass Issue 2, and 33 counties that voted for Donald Trump in 2020 also voted for Issue 2.
Follow OCJ Reporter Megan Henry on Twitter.
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