Ohio activists have cleared one final hurdle to begin collecting signatures for a 2022 election initiative to legalize marijuana in the state.
About a week after the attorney general certified the latest version of the reform motion, the Ohio Ballot Board determined Monday that the measure met the requirements for a single issue and gave advocates clearance to begin collecting signatures.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) launched its election efforts last month. And the attorney general’s most recent attestation came after his office rejected the recapitulative language of an earlier version.
“We are satisfied with today’s result and believe that the electoral committee made the right decision,” said CTRMLA spokesman Tom Haren in a press release. “We look forward to beginning the signature collection process and working with our state lawmakers to create a safe, legal, and highly regulated cannabis market in Ohio.”
The new initiative is a legislative proposal. If supporters collect 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters, the legislature then has four months to decide on the measure, to reject it or to accept it in an amended version. If lawmakers don’t approve of the proposal, organizers will then need to collect an additional 132,887 signatures to put the proposal to a vote in front of voters in 2022.
Petitioners must first collect an initial series of signatures, representing three percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election, in order to bring the issue to lawmakers. These signatures must come from at least 44 of the state’s 88 counties.
In addition, “the number for each of these counties must be at least 1.5 percent of the votes cast in the last gubernatorial election,” the attorney general said. And the signatures must be submitted no later than 10 days before the beginning of a legislative period.
Ohio voters turned down a 2015 legalization initiative and proponents put a campaign on the 2020 ballot to introduce another measure due to the coronavirus pandemic. But in this round, the campaign is confident that it will prevail once it has cleared these procedural hurdles.
The law proposed by CTRMLA 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 of 12 plants per household.
It’s a remarkable departure from the failed 2015 reform initiative, criticized by proponents for an oligopolistic model that would have given exclusive control over cannabis production to the very financiers who would have paid to get the measure on the ballot.
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A 10 percent sales tax would be levied on the sale of cannabis, with the proceeds divided to support social justice and employment programs (36 percent), places that enable adult marijuana businesses to operate in their area ( 36 percent), education and substance abuse of programs (25 percent), and administrative costs of system implementation (three percent).
According to the proposal, a cannabis control department would be established at the State Department of Commerce. It would have the power to “license, regulate, investigate and punish operators of adult cannabis use, adult test laboratories and persons who require a license”.
The move gives current medical cannabis companies a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would have to start issuing licenses for adult use to qualified applicants running existing medical operations within nine months of the law’s entry into force.
The department would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivation licenses and 50 adult retailer licenses, “with a preference for applications participating in the social justice and cannabis employment program.” And it would empower regulators to issue additional licenses for the leisure market two years after the first operator is approved.
Individual communities could oppose opening new recreational cannabis businesses in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana businesses even if they wanted to add adult-use businesses at the same time. Employers could also maintain policies banning workers from using adult cannabis.
In addition, regulators would need to “reach an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services” that “educate and treat those with addiction problems related to cannabis or other controlled substances, including opioids . “
In terms of social justice, some proponents are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic deletions to erase the files of people convicted of crimes that would be legalized under the law. However, it does contain a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives, including deletion.
If the measure gets voted, the results of local reform initiatives across the state will signal that it may have enough support to be successful.
Currently, 22 jurisdictions have passed local laws that reduce the penalty for possession of cannabis at a low level from an offense punishable by jail time and a fine to the “lowest sentence allowed by state law”. And activists are pursuing similar policy changes in dozens of cities this year, several of which have already garnered enough signatures to qualify for local votes.
Meanwhile, Ohio lawmakers officially tabled a bill to legalize the possession, production, and sale of marijuana late last month – the first of its kind in the state legislature.
The legislation would legalize the possession of up to five ounces of cannabis for adults 21 years and older and allow them to grow up to 12 plants for personal use. It will also include provisions to overturn previous convictions for ownership and cultivation that will be legalized under the measure.
Like the CTRMLA proposal, a 10 percent excise tax would be levied on the sale of marijuana. But after covering administrative costs, the revenue would be split between communities with at least one cannabis store (15 percent), counties with at least one shop (15 percent), K-12 education (35 percent), and infrastructure (35 percent).
Governor Mike DeWine (R) is likely to oppose legislative efforts given his track record. But a voter-led initiative could create another opportunity for advocates.
Ohio is one of many states where activists are working to bring the matter of legalization to voters in 2022.
Smoking marijuana in public leads to a greater drop in arrests in NYC than in other legalized locations
Photo courtesy WeedPornDaily.
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