The law goes into effect in just over three weeks on Dec. 7 and Democratic and Republican lawmakers alike said some tweaks to it may be needed.
“I think there’s a way for us to follow the will of the people on this one, but also get some clarification,” Ohio Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said.
On Monday, Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), Speaker of the House Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) and Gov. Mike DeWine met to talk details about a possible bill.
“We’re talking about the rate how the money is spent, public use,” Huffman said.
Huffman said he has had a lot of suggestions for where the money goes.
“One of the suggestions was dealing with the likely additional mental health problems that we’ll have,” he said.
Huffman said when people voted, they approved recreational marijuana, but said he is not sure people necessarily voted for the current proposed distribution. Antonio agreed.
“I think, even legislators have to read through and figure out what Issue 2 actually says and what those details were,” Antonio said.
Rep. Cindy Abrams (R-Harrison) has already introduced a bill to spend some of the marijuana tax revenue on law enforcement training.
“Every one of our law enforcement officers should have access to quality training, and this bill will ensure this is Ohio’s reality with sustainable funding,” Abrams said.
Stephens said while he does not think it should exclusively go to that, he thinks it is an important piece.
“I think what’s important is local communities are going to see the effect of this new law,” Stephens said. “There are issues with funding local law enforcement, funding county jails that don’t have a funding stream. In my mind, it makes sense to have this new revenue directed to certain things.”
Ohio House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington) also said she is open to changes as long as they keep the will of the voters in mind.
“I think there certainly are some discussions about certain aspects that maybe were not fully covered by the issue,” Russo said. “For example, public consumption, advertising that targets children and minors.”
Russo said that up to this point, there have been no discussions about a full-scale repeal of the new law and no bills have been introduced to do so.
Both Russo and Antonio said they are also looking at the way tax revenue is distributed.
“We want to make sure that we are maintaining the intent of the voters who passed Issue 2, but also being very thoughtful in giving flexibility back to our local communities in regard to how they use the revenues,” Russo said. “How is it used, for example, to support law enforcement and public safety? I think certainly giving communities the flexibility if they want to implement education programs.”
“Some of my members of the caucus would like to see it go to education. I think we should also have the discussion about the PTSD Fund for law enforcement,” Antonio said. “Along with what was voted on, which was that it would go back to the communities where the licenses are.”
Huffman and Antonio said they could accomplish what the governor wants by getting something passed by Dec. 7.
“It would be better for people going forward to know what the law is, rather than begin spending money or taking actions and then the law change,” Huffman said. “The Senate is going to lead on it and it’s obviously going to be an expedited schedule. We’re going to have some sessions on days we usually don’t have session.”
“If we’re going to make any kinds of changes, put any, any kinds of guardrails, clarifications, as I think he [Huffman] indicated, we have to do that before Dec. 7,” Antonio said.
But Stephens and Russo said they are not sure about that timeline.
“I think that’s rather ambitious; we’ll see how it plays out,” Russo said. “In terms of, you know, is it agreeable by the vast majority of members, you know, it is more likely to move quickly.”
“Doing that in the next couple of weeks is going to be a real challenge to put forth, such a large program that quickly,” Stephen said.
Stephens said while home-growing and possession will be legal come Dec. 7, the first license for a dispensary won’t be issued until September, so he said they have time to hash out some of the details.
“The tax rate, where that money is going, in my opinion, doesn’t have to be decided by Dec. 6,” Stephens said. “They can be decided as we move further down the line.”
Stephens said he is not opposed to passing something by then if they can, but said while the issues are important, they are not all urgent.
“I think we can get to some sort of agreement,” he said. “I just think it is making sure we look at the right timelines as far as what is the most urgent for the program to get a sound start where everyone knows what the rules are.”
If lawmakers want to get something passed to take effect by Dec. 7, it would have to include an emergency clause, which requires more than a simple majority to pass the House and Senate.