COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) – With less than a month left in the General Assembly, two Ohio lawmakers again asked fellow legislators to consider a bill to legalize the use and sale of recreational marijuana.

Introduced by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) and Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) in August 2021, House Bill 382 seeks to allow people older than 21 to buy and consume marijuana, as well as grow a limited number of marijuana plants for personal use. The bill strikes existing laws criminalizing marijuana from the Ohio Revised Code and allows for the expungement of marijuana-related violations for nonviolent offenders.

The proposed bill also establishes a marijuana regulatory agency within the state’s department of commerce to oversee the licensing and regulation of cannabis growers, processors, dispensaries and testing laboratories. At the House Finance Committee hearing Tuesday, Weinstein said bringing marijuana within the purview of the state would not only be safer for the public, it would also bolster Ohio’s economy.

“Our state is actively losing dollars to neighboring states with recreational programs and missing out on hundreds of millions of dollars in potential tax revenue,” said Weinstein.

Weinstein pointed to data from Michigan’s Department of Treasury showing that marijuana sales in the fiscal year 2021 totaled more than $1.1 billion in revenue, with the state raking in more than $111 million from the 10% sales tax.

The bill follows in the footsteps of previous attempts at marijuana legalization in Ohio, including a ballot initiative by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol that was struck from voters’ 2022 ballots and is slated for review by the state legislature as early as January 2023. In fact, it is neither statesman’s only legislative push for marijuana legalization; Weinstein and Upchurch placed the coalition’s ballot initiative before the legislature on 4/20 this year.

When the pair of lawmakers introduced the ballot initiative earlier this year, a spokesperson for House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) told NBC4 that Cupp doesn’t support the legalization of recreational marijuana and that he didn’t think such legislation would pass.

The bill outlines the roles of and eligibility for various entities necessary to bring cannabis sales under the state’s regulation. It also levies a 10% tax on marijuana retailers’ gross sales, which Weinstein broke down to go toward the following:

  • 35% to road and bridge maintenance
  • 35% to K-12 education
  • 30% to municipalities and communities that host dispensaries

The first two years of legalization would also require that $20 million be designated annually to clinical trials and research on marijuana as a treatment option for veterans and to prevent veteran suicide.

Changing sanctions

Weinstein and Upchurch’s bill would eliminate criminal penalties for marijuana offenses, instead allowing for civil sanctioning in the form of fines. Penalties for marijuana-related offenses are progressive, meaning fines increase each time a person is cited. Fines for illicit possession, cultivation and sale range from $100 to $2,000. All offenses would be misdemeanors, instead of some current felonies for marijuana possession, trafficking and cultivation.

People over 21 would be able to lawfully possess up to five ounces of marijuana and 15 grams of hashish, cannabis flower processed into a more concentrated resin. However, the bill would not allow people to consume marijuana anywhere, at any time. Rather, marijuana consumption would be banned from public spaces, vehicles and K-12 schools.

The bill also allows people to grow up to 12 marijuana plants for personal use, so long as the plants are hidden from public view and are secured where children cannot access them.

Although the bill allows for record expungement for those convicted of marijuana crimes, it is not granted automatically; people are required to apply individually for expungement and may be subject to a hearing at which the prosecutor may object to their motion.

Weinstein pointed to the fact that more than 6,600 Ohioans were arrested for marijuana offenses in 2021, with the vast majority being possession charges. He said the costs of criminalizing marijuana extend beyond lost revenue and into communities disproportionately impacted by marijuana criminalization and law enforcement – particularly Black and low-income communities.

“Decriminalizing marijuana would allow law enforcement to focus on solving and preventing actual crime,” Weinstein said. 

Licensing and regulation

The marijuana regulatory agency would be tasked with reviewing and granting license applications for marijuana establishments. It also would have to develop license revocation guidelines, set maximum tetrahydrocannabinol amounts in processed products and develop packaging requirements.

There are several types of licenses outlined in the proposed legislation, including:

  • Three classes of growth licenses for the cultivation, distribution and sale of cannabis to other marijuana establishments
  • Processor licenses for processing cannabis into any form approved for consumption as well as the sale of processed cannabis to other marijuana establishments
  • Retailer licenses for the distribution, transferring and sale of processed cannabis to the public and other marijuana establishments
  • Safety compliance facility licenses for marijuana testing, including for potency determination and quality control
  • Microbusiness licenses for people to grow up to 150 plants who are licensed to process, package and sell marijuana to consumers (but not to other marijuana establishments)
  • Secure transporter licenses for people licensed to transport marijuana between and among marijuana establishments

All applicants would undergo a criminal background check. Prior convictions for marijuana offenses would not disqualify a person from licensure – unless that person sold cannabis to someone under 21.

Municipalities will be able to reasonably regulate marijuana establishments under the bill, including limiting public advertisements, hours of operation, security requirements and proximity to other establishments such as schools or public parks.

Employers also wouldn’t be required to allow employees to consume marijuana or change existing drug policies, including hiring practices that disqualify marijuana users.

The nationwide trend

After Weinstein’s testimony, Rep. Haraz Ghanbari (R-Perrysburg) quickly searched Google on his phone for research looking at the correlation between marijuana legalization and car accidents. He found research indicating in some states where recreational use was legalized, the amount of drivers who tested positive for THC increased and expressed concern about the implications for Ohio.

Weinstein rebutted by saying that increased rates of drivers who tested positive for THC can be attributed to increased testing. He also pointed to the fact that multiple studies have demonstrated that car accidents are far more likely to involve alcohol than they are to involve marijuana. 

Nearly half of states have legalized the non-medical use of marijuana, including Maryland and Missouri, whose voters passed ballot measures in November. Weinstein said as other states across the country move toward full legalization, Ohio risks losing out.

“I view Ohioans as largely responsible adults,” Weinstein said. “And the reality is that many go to that state up north right now, and I hate in any way to be losing out to them on access to an industry that is growing.”