Ohio activists have turned in what they say are more than enough signatures to qualify a marijuana legalization initiative for the state’s November ballot.
After the legislature declined to take the opportunity to enact the reform during a court-imposed window this session, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) turned in a batch of more than 220,000 signatures to the secretary of state’s office on Wednesday to put the issue before voters later this year.
This represents the second group of signatures that activists have submitted to the state in order to qualify the measure. The first round triggered a four-month legislative review period that lawmakers could have used to act on the issue—but they didn’t, which allowed the campaign to begin collecting the second half of the petitions they needed to make the ballot. The latest batch needs to contain at least 124,046 valid signatures from registered voters.
Based on the volume of signatures and the results of internal verifications, the campaign is confident they’ve met that requirement.
Activists 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.
Supporters of a proposed law to regulate marijuana like alcohol for this November’s ballot deliver 254 boxes of petitions to the Ohio Secretary of State’s office. They need around 124k signatures to make the ballot – they’re submitting more than 222k. pic.twitter.com/TAsnuiYMus
— Karen Kasler (@karenkasler) July 5, 2023
CTRMLA filed suit to force ballot placement, but that was unsuccessful with respect to the 2022 election. However, the state agreed to a settlement that meant they would not have to collect the first round of initial signatures again and that the initiative would be immediately retransmitted to the legislature at the start of the 2023 session.
“We are thrilled to have reached this milestone,” campaign spokesperson Tom Haren said in a press release. “This is a testament to the hard work of our campaign and the support of Ohio voters who are ready for common-sense marijuana reform.”
“This isn’t ground-breaking,” he said. “We’re just trying to get Ohio in line with neighbors like Michigan and Illinois.”
Haren told Marijuana Moment in an interview on Friday that once the state certifies the initiative, CTRMLA will move forward with a “targeted voter outreach effort” to raise awareness about the vote.
“The people we need to reach, we will reach,” Haren said.
Here are the key provisions of the legalization ballot measure that may appear on the November ballot:
- The initiative would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates.
- Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
- A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).
- A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”
- The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.
- The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.
- Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.
- Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”
- With respect to social equity, some advocates are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, the measure does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.
A Spectrum News/Siena College Research Institute poll that was released late last year found that 60 percent of Ohioans support legalizing cannabis, though it did not ask respondents about the specific provisions of the ballot proposal. Earlier polling also showed majority Ohio voter support for enacting marijuana legalization at the ballot.
Meanwhile, bipartisan Ohio lawmakers filed a bill to legalize marijuana last month, offering the legislature another opportunity to take the lead on the reform. But it has yet to advance, and now the stage is set for voters to make the choice.
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Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Casey Weinstein (D) introduced the Ohio Adult Use Act, which combined and refined prior legalization proposals that the lawmakers pursued last session on a separate partisan basis.
Callender, who sponsored a separate bill to tax and regulate cannabis in 2021, previously cast doubts on the prospects of legislative reform, signaling that he felt the issue would ultimately need to be decided by voters given the recalcitrance of the legislature.
Ohioans have made clear that they’re ready for a policy change during elections in multiple recent cycles. To date, more than three dozen Ohio localities have enacted decriminalization through the local ballot.
More trucks full of boxes, this time for a proposed statute to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio.
This would also be on the ballot in November, if certified, but it is NOT a constitutional amendment. That means Issue 1 wouldn’t affect it. pic.twitter.com/sklLFt5XET
— Haley BeMiller (@haleybemiller) July 5, 2023
Last November, for example, voters five more cities approved local marijuana decriminalization ballot initiatives. And during a primary election last month, voters in Helena similarly enacted the reform.
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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