COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Eight years after Ohio voters rejected a proposal to legalize adult-use marijuana, the state’s pro-cannabis community is returning to the streets to collect signatures on what it considers a new-and-improved legalization effort.
Since state lawmakers missed their Wednesday deadline to pass a citizen-authored initiative to legalize the drug, the Ohio Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol got the greenlight to gather the remaining 124,046 signatures needed to get the cannabis question on the ballot in November, according to Coalition spokesperson Tom Haren.
“We’re building on an existing medical marijuana program that is popular, shown that it can be effective and provide safe, tested products to Ohio medical patients,” Haren said. “This is a framework that works and will provide a quick alternative to an illicit market.”
The Coalition’s proposed statute, which was struck from the 2022 ballot after a legal skirmish with the state’s top Republicans, would legalize the possession, purchase and sale of marijuana by Ohioans ages 21 and older. It also creates a home-grow program, permitting each adult to have up to six plants.
If passed, the initiative would levy a 10% tax on the sale of all cannabis products, generating an estimated $400 million in revenue for the state, Haren said. More than a quarter of that revenue will be allocated toward social equity and jobs programs.
But unlike a ResponsibleOhio initiative placed on the 2015 ballot – which failed by about 64% of the vote, according to the Secretary of State’s office – the Coalition’s proposal does not create a monopoly of the state’s marijuana industry, said Jana Hrdinová, administrative director of the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.
“You actually had a situation where long-term advocates from marijuana organizations decided not to support the 2015 ballot initiative because they saw that as a major money grab by the backers and organizers of the petition,” Hrdinová said.
The Coalition’s proposal, on the other hand, gives existing medical marijuana license holders preferential treatment – or “first mover advantage,” Hrdinová said – to obtain an adult-use license. Many existing medical license holders have gotten their business’ infrastructure up and running and experienced the nature of the ever-changing market since as early as 2018.
Haren said he’s confident that Ohioans will vote yes on the Coalition’s proposal come November, pointing to the 60% of respondents in a Spectrum News/Siena College poll who said they support legalizing the recreational use of marijuana.
Political affiliation-wise, the strongest support for legalizing the drug comes from Democrats, the poll found. When narrowed to respondents’ ages, Ohioans between 34 and 49 years old expressed the greatest support – 80% among that age group – for legalizing the drug.
“Ohioans are saying, ‘Free the weed; this shouldn’t be criminalized,’” said Pricilla Harris, executive director of the Cleveland-based, marijuana advocacy group Sensible Movement Coalition.
If Ohioans reject the Coalition’s proposal, it is unclear what the path toward marijuana legalization would look like.
Although some lawmakers have sponsored legislation to legalize the drug – including Rep. Casey Weinstein’s (D-Hudson) plan to introduce the Ohio Adult Use Act in coming days – the efforts have faced staunch opposition from top Republican officials, some of whom have instead turned their attention toward enhancing Ohio’s medical marijuana program.
The Coalition has until July 5 to collect the remaining signatures from 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties.