Organizer says next steps on Ohio adult-use cannabis by month's end

Organizer says next steps on Ohio adult-use cannabis by month’s end

by Jake Zuckerman, Ohio Capital Journal

A direct-democracy attempt to force the state legislature to act on recreational marijuana will have enough signatures by the month’s end to set a plan in motion, an organizer projected Friday.

Ohio attorney Thomas Haren, a representative of the “Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol,” said he expects that enough signatures will be gathered to move a proposal forward that would allow for adult use, sale, and possession of marijuana in Ohio.

“We think that marijuana reform is popular,” he said at a panel hosted by the Ohio State University law school’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center.

“It’s not a bipartisan issue. It’s a nonpartisan issue.”

The coalition launched what’s known in Ohio as an initiated statute. It proposed the architecture of a recreational marijuana program in Ohio. If state officials determine the coalition gathered the required 133,000 valid signatures, lawmakers in the Ohio General Assembly get four months to act on the proposal. If lawmakers fail, organizers must gather more signatures to send the proposal to a popular vote by the people at the next general election.

The Ohio Ballot Board gave organizers the green light in late August to start gathering signatures.

The proposal allows for the possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana or 15 grams of marijuana extract. Adult Ohioans could purchase marijuana at retail locations or grow two plants at home (four if there are two adults living in the household).

Marijuana has reached a “tipping point” in the U.S. and the time to climb aboard was yesterday, according to Rep. Casey Weinstein, D-Hudson, a lead sponsor of House Democrats’ effort on recreational marijuana.

Nineteen states and Washington D.C. have legalized marijuana for personal use, according to the advocacy group NORML. Gallup polling indicates 68% of Americans support legalizing marijuana, the highest rate since the polling firm began surveying the issue in 1969. Roughly 83% of surveyed Democrats, 71% of independents and 50% of Republicans indicated support. The Washington Post reported this week that while there’s not yet agreement on its breadth, bipartisan members of Congress are working on significant reforms to the nation’s marijuana laws.

“This is a situation where we’re behind where Ohioans are,” Weinstein said, noting that the initiated statute might provide the Legislature with a sense of “urgency.”

History

Mary Jane Borden, co-founder of the Natural Therapies Education Foundation, said Ohio lawmakers have a long history slow-walking marijuana legislation until direct democracy attempts force them to act.

Between 2000 and 2010, seven marijuana bills were introduced, she said. Only one of them received more than a perfunctory introductory hearing.

In 2016, organizers launched a campaign for a constitutional amendment to allow for the use of medical marijuana in Ohio. They suspended the campaign after Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 523, which created Ohio’s current program.

While voters are increasingly supportive of marijuana, lawmakers are decidedly agnostic. Borden cited a recent survey of 41 members from Gongwer News Service (the poll had a 31% response rate and doesn’t necessarily represent the full General Assembly). It found among Democrats, 36% support legalization, compared to 14% who don’t and 50% who are undecided. For Republicans, 43% support legalization, compared to 43% who don’t and 14% who are undecided.

“Republicans are more favorable on this issue than we might give them credit for,” Haren, who identified himself as a Republican, said.

With such a mixed take from lawmakers, Borden said the “end-run” of a referendum can spark action.

“What motivated the change [regarding medical marijuana] was obviously the ballot issue,” she said. “Similar to what [Haren] is doing now.”

Moving parts

Alongside Haren, there are three key items to watch regarding marijuana policy in Ohio.

For one, House Democrats Weinstein and Terrence Upchurch, D-Cleveland, introduced legislation of their own, with key differences from the initiated statute proposal. Their bill contains an expungement program, allows possession of up to five ounces of marijuana, and others.

The legislation, introduced in August, has yet to receive its first hearing from the House Finance Committee.

For two, House Republicans have announced a proposal of their own that’s fairly similar to the Democrats’ plan. When they announced the legislation last month, sponsoring Reps. Jamie Callender, R-Concord, and Ron Ferguson, R-Wintersville, acknowledged it’s a moonshot but said they believe they can convince the House Speaker — especially given pressure an initiated statute can provide.

They have yet to formally introduce a bill. A Callender aide said Friday they’re hoping to get a bill out around Thanksgiving but did not have details on any changes from what was announced.

Thirdly, a bipartisan group of Ohio Senators earlier this month proposed a broad expansion of the current medical marijuana program. Their bill would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana whenever they “reasonably” believe a patient might benefit. A Senate committee held its first hearing on the bill last week.

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: [email protected] Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.


  • Advocate responds to SD high court overturning adult-use cannabis
    South Dakota’s highest court sided with the state’s governor today in declaring an amendment legalizing cannabis invalid. Amendment A, which passed with 54% support, would have legalized cannabis for anyone over 21.
  • Organizer says next steps on Ohio adult-use cannabis by month’s end
    Ohio attorney Thomas Haren, a representative of the “Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol,” said he expects that enough signatures will be gathered to move a proposal forward that would allow for adult use, sale, and possession of marijuana in Ohio.
  • Montana regulators will reverse proposed CBD, dispensary worker rules
    The Montana Department of Revenue told lawmakers this week that it will strike a pair of proposed rules implementing the state’s fledgling recreational marijuana program after hearing considerable input from members of the public, the cannabis industry and legislators who warned that the rules veered from the intent of House Bill 701, an act passed this session regulating the adult-use pot.
  • Cannabis prices soar in Louisiana due to regulatory bottleneck
    A regulatory bottleneck in Louisiana’s medical marijuana supply chain has inflated costs far beyond the prices found in other states, according to industry experts who testified at the Louisiana Legislature’s Medical Marijuana Commission meeting Thursday.
  • Critics say AZ ‘social equity’ program makes Big Cannabis even richer
    “This is a program that, as currently written, is designed to fail,” attorney Julie Gunnigle said to Arizona Mirror. Gunnigle up until recently worked for Arizona’s Chapter of NORML, an organization that pushes for the reform of marijuana laws across the United States.
  • Bipartisan bill to reduce Wisconsin cannabis fines introduced
    Wisconsin legislators are taking another crack at a bipartisan push to achieve cannabis reform in the state. A new piece of legislation, co-authored by Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Gibson), Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Valez (D-Milwaukee), Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) and Sen. Kathleen Bernier (R- Chippewa Falls), reduces existing penalties for cannabis possession.
  • Ret. Navy SEAL: Biden should support medical cannabis research bill
    Cannabis is just another bullet in the bandolier, and I believe it has had a positive impact. It helps treat PTSD symptoms like anxiety, fear and flashbacks. Unfortunately, our military is still culturally behind and bears real animus toward the plant.
  • Ohio senators mulling major revisions to medical cannabis system
    Ohio senators have filed legislation that represents a broad revision of the state’s medical marijuana system. Among the changes is language expanding access to the drug if a physician “reasonably” believes their patient’s symptoms would be relieved or they would otherwise benefit from marijuana.
  • Some Va. Republicans open to speeding retail sales of marijuana
    Newly empowered Republicans in Virginia say plans to allow retail sales of recreational marijuana won’t necessarily be doomed under their control of the House of Delegates and Executive Mansion. And some say they’re open to speeding up the timeline for allowing retail sales, which is currently delayed until 2024.
  • Gov. Reeves: No immediate plans to call special session for nursing crisis, medical marijuana
    Reeves, over the summer, regularly said he was open to calling a special session for medical marijuana and even the nursing crisis stopgap. But since lawmakers finalized bills for both programs, the governor has remained silent about whether he will call a special session at all.