“Issue 2 is not about whether people should use marijuana, people are using marijuana,” Spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol Tom Haren said. “They’re just either buying it from the illicit market or they’re driving to the state up north.”
“Is marijuana out there? Yes,” Auditor of State Keith Faber (R-Ohio) said. “But there is going to be an increase in people who say, ‘well it’s legal, I’m okay to use it, I’m okay to try it.’”
Part of the initiated statute is a 10% tax, in addition to local sales tax.
“Which means for a lot of dispensaries the tax rate will be about 16% to 18% or thereabout,” Haren said.
As in the statute, 25% of the tax money would go to substance abuse and addiction funds. 36% would go to local governments that have dispensaries within their communities. Haren said another 36% would go to a social equity and jobs fund, that fund would do things like study and fund criminal justice reform efforts, advance causes like violence prevention and help Ohioans open dispensaries.
“To ensure that people without economic means are able to participate in the industry,” Haren said. “We want to ensure that fees and costs from the regulatory side are not barriers.”
But Treasurer of State, Robert Sprague (R-Ohio) said not only does he want the tax revenue to be distributed differently, he said he thinks the tax number is “way too low,” he said it needs to be doubled, at least.
“To even get close to being able to pay the additional costs for the state of Ohio,” Sprague said. “The state of Ohio is going to be assuming tremendous costs in the future through the Medicare system and behavioral health system for the addiction this will create.”
If this initiated statute does pass, state lawmakers would have the authority to modify the law and do things like adjust the tax rate. But Faber said he is not counting on it. He said initiated statutes do not have a track record in Ohio of being amended by the legislature.
“To assume that the legislature is going to come in and fix all of the problems in this, may be a failed assumption,” Faber said. “There may be some incentive to do things, but I guarantee you there will be pressure from people saying ‘oh, you’re ignoring the will of the voters.’”
Faber said he worries that figuring out a tax number could be tricky, even if state lawmakers do take a look at it.
“If the price goes too high the black market is going to undercut it,” Faber said. “If the price isn’t high enough, you can’t afford money for all the social goods.”
Haren points out an Ohio State University study that suggests the state could make hundreds of millions of dollars with a recreational marijuana market. But Faber said he does not like the idea of “relying on vices,” like gambling or marijuana, to bolster the state’s economy.
“Is it a revenue replacement or a revenue substitution,” Faber said. “People are probably spending money on marijuana that they would otherwise spend someplace else in the economy.”
Haren said they decided on the 10% tax by evaluating best practices in other states and what the long-term impact could be.
“It is higher than Michigan, but still low enough that it would allow our legal market to drive the illicit operators out of business,” Haren said.
Other concerns state lawmakers have raised, including Governor Mike DeWine (R-Ohio), include an increased number of people driving under the influence. Haren said other states have been regulating marijuana use for years, and Ohio already has a program to address this.
“The Ohio State Highway Patrol trains officers to become drug recognition experts, which is specialized training to detect impairment by substances other than alcohol,” Haren said.
And Haren said the legalization is about more than just economic growth; he said it is about correcting an injustice.
“Marijuana prohibition has ruined too many lives,” Haren said. “Even today, it’s still far too easy for somebody to have their life ruined by a small marijuana conviction. That makes it harder to get a job, harder to get into school, harder to get a loan, harder to rent an apartment.”