Another Ohio city has approved a local ballot measure to decriminalize marijuana.
The city of Helena, which has a population of just over 200 people, passed the reform measure in a 15-8 vote during the primary election earlier this month.
More than three dozen Ohio localities have now enacted decriminalization through the local ballot in recent years.
Last November, voters decided on decriminalization in five jurisdictions: Corning, Hemlock, Kent, Laurelville, Rushville and Shawnee.
Activists said that they met the requirements to qualify a decriminalization measure in Helena that year too, but officials declined to officially certify it and it was subsequently subject to litigation in court. The initiative was then certified for this month’s election and prevailed.
Prior to last year’s election, more than two dozen jurisdictions across the state had already adopted local statues effectively decriminalizing possession—some of which have been passed by voter initiatives while others were adopted by city councils in major cities like Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.
Activists with the groups Sensible Movement Coalition and NORML Appalachia of Ohio have continued to work the local reform angle as statewide decriminalization and legalization efforts have stalled in the state.
That said, advocates are increasingly optimistic that all Ohioans will get a chance to decide on legalizing cannabis at the ballot box next year, as the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) is now collecting signatures for their reform initiative.
Lawmakers forfeited an opportunity to enact the activist-led legalization proposal, letting a statutory deadline to take up the issue lapse earlier this month and instead leaving it to advocates to pick up where they left off on signature gathering to place the measure on the 2024 ballot.
Ohio’s secretary of state submitted the reform legislation to lawmakers in January, giving them four months to consider legalizing cannabis before an election law was triggered that has now feed up advocates to continue petitioning to put the reform directly before voters.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) initially worked to put the legalization initiative on last year’s ballot, but procedural complications prevented that from happening. Activists turned in enough signatures to trigger the legislative review, but the timing of their initial submission was challenged.
CTRMLA’s lawsuit to force ballot placement was unsuccessful with respect to the 2022 election, but the state agreed to a settlement that meant they would not have to collect another round of initial signatures and that the initiative would be immediately retransmitted to the legislature at the start of the 2023 session.
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Last session, a pair of Ohio Democratic lawmakers separately filed a bill to legalize marijuana that directly mirrored the proposed ballot initiative, but it did not advance in time.
A GOP legislator who sponsored a different bill to tax and regulate cannabis has tempered expectations about the chances for legislative reform, signaling that the issue will likely have to be decided by voters.
The House Finance Committee held a hearing on the Democratic and Republican legalization bills in December, but no votes were held.
Lawmakers might have given up the chance to legislatively tackle adult-use marijuana legalization before this month’s deadline, but the conservative legislature has been considering major overhauls to the state’s medical cannabis program this session.
Also, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signed a major criminal justice reform bill in January that will let cities facilitate mass expungements for people with certain drug-related convictions, including marijuana possession of up to 200 grams.
After the law took effect, the mayor of Cleveland said in April that the city will be moving forward with plans to seal thousands of cannabis records.
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