COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – Ohio’s Secretary of State has resubmitted a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana.
After a legal skirmish struck the initiated statute from last year’s ballot, Secretary of State Frank LaRose reintroduced an act to legalize, tax and regulate the adult use of cannabis, according to a copy of LaRose’s letter Tuesday to the General Assembly. If the Republican Statehouse supermajority fails to adopt the measure within four months, the question could come before Ohio voters in November 2023.
The 34-page act would legalize the possession, purchase, and sale of marijuana by Ohioans ages 21 and older, while implementing a 10% tax on the sale of all cannabis products. If enacted, Ohio would join 21 other states to allow the drug’s recreational use, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“The drug war as it relates to marijuana is a total and complete abject failure. Prohibition doesn’t work, so we need to have a different approach,” said Tom Haren, an attorney for the Ohio Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, whose members brought forth the ballot initiative.
LaRose’s reintroduction of the proposal abides by a May agreement reached with the Coalition shortly after the pro-legalization group accused Republican lawmakers of blocking the cannabis question from the November 2022 ballot.
Despite having its sights set on 2022, the Coalition sparred with LaRose and state lawmakers over the interpretation of a 10-day deadline related to ballot initiatives outlined by the Ohio Constitution.
A lawsuit ensued, and the warring parties eventually settled: LaRose would resubmit the petition when a new slate of legislators convened in January and allow the Coalition to reuse the initial signatures it collected in support of legalizing the drug.
It’s unlikely, however, that legalization will see a successful path through the General Assembly. Republican leaders have expressed opposition to legalizing the drug recreationally, turning their attention instead toward enhancing Ohio’s medical marijuana program. Two other lawmaker-led attempts to legalize cannabis – one of which was timely introduced on 4/20 last year – are stalled at the Statehouse.
That’s why Haren is banking on a ballot initiative as the vehicle for legalization in Ohio. If lawmakers fail to take action on the measure in four months, the Coalition can collect additional signatures to place the question before Ohio voters in November 2023, Haren said.
Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), however, made a different prediction. He told reporters on Tuesday that he thinks a marijuana ballot question “would fail as bad as the last one,” referring to the 2015 measure that was rejected by nearly 65% of the electorate.
Haren disagreed, arguing Ohioans are ready for legalization. Sixty percent of Ohio’s population supports legalizing recreational cannabis, according to a September 2022 Siena College poll, leaving Haren optimistic that voters in November will follow suit.
“It’s not a question of, ‘Is marijuana going to be legalized for adults in Ohio?’ The questions are, ‘When?’ and ‘How?’” Haren said.
Under the act, every adult would be permitted to grow up to six marijuana plants in their home. The 10% tax levied on cannabis products is poised to generate $400 million in annual revenue in Ohio, Haren said, more than a quarter of which would go toward social equity and jobs programs.
Legalizing recreational marijuana is not only “good policy,” Haren said. It’s also a proactive way, he argued, to ensure Ohio is aligned with federal law in the event the U.S. Senate passes the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement (MORE) Act.
Approved by the U.S. House in April of last year, the MORE Act would legalize pot at the federal level and remove it from the list of scheduled substances under the Controlled Substances Act.
“If marijuana is descheduled at the federal level, it will automatically be descheduled at the state level, which means overnight, it’s legal, unregulated, untaxed, capable of being sold by anyone anywhere, with no age requirement,” Haren said. “And that’s sort of a doomsday scenario.”
Rep. Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland), one of the co-sponsors of a cannabis-legalizing proposal House Bill 382, celebrated LaRose’s reintroduction of the ballot initiative as a move “protect[ing] the rights of Ohio’s citizens by upholding their constitutional right to petition.” In a statement, he said he hopes the citizen-led initiative will come to fruition in the 135th General Assembly.
Read the full text of the proposal below: