An Ohio Democratic lawmaker wants to see people who’ve been criminalized over marijuana, as well as those with industry experience, involved in any efforts to amend the state’s voter-approved legalization law, arguing that it shouldn’t be left up to “anti-cannabis” legislators alone to revise the statute.
Ohio Senate and House GOP leaders have already previewed plans to pass a package of changes to the law before possession and cultivation becomes legal next month, with a focus on potential revisions affecting tax revenue distribution, public consumption and law enforcement, for example.
But Rep. Juanita Brent (D) says it’s important that people who have been directly impacted by prohibition and who may participate in the legal marketplace have seats at the table as leadership moves ahead with possible amendments.
“If you’ve been criminalized by cannabis, the best thing you can do is come back into the field,” Brent told The Statehouse News Bureau.
“Ohioans have to remember that the people who are trying to be the loudest at the Statehouse are people who were anti-cannabis,” she said. “We cannot have anti-cannabis people leading on what’s going to happen with cannabis. We need people who are involved. We need people who have been doing the work. We need people who have been advocating.”
So far, the conversation around revising the initiated statute has been top-level, with GOP lawmakers and Gov. Mike DeWine (R) speaking generally about areas that they’re interested in changing. But there’s been a consistent emphasis on revising provisions on how marijuana tax revenue will be divvied up, which may be an issue for advocates who want to see the sizable investment in social equity and community reinvestment that’s prescribed under the measure as approved by voters.
Senate President Matt Huffman (R) said last week that he didn’t think most voters considered the nuances of the cannabis reform proposal when they went to the ballot and instead simply passed it based on the broad belief that marijuana should be legal for adults. He argued, for example, that the majority probably doesn’t support prioritizing cannabis business licensing for people who’ve been disproportionately targeted by criminalization.
The governor made similar remarks after this month’s election, as he expressed his interest in quickly changing various components of the law. However, he’s stressed that voters shouldn’t expect any “surprises,” and the proposed revisions that are being discussed would still honor the “spirit” of the reform.
Rather than introduce new standalone legislation through regular order, the Senate president said the plan is to incorporate cannabis amendments into an unrelated House-passed bill and use that as the vehicle, sending the revised measure back to the House for a simple concurrence vote.
While Huffman and the governor have made it clear that they want to see revisions enacted expeditiously, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R) says he doesn’t necessarily see the urgency given that most of the changes that are being discussed aren’t set to be implemented until later next year.
Stephens said last week that it’s “going to be a real challenge” to put together a package of changes to the law within the next few weeks. The Senate is currently only scheduled to meet twice before December 7, and the House has four session days to act.
Meanwhile, one Republican House member, Rep. Cindy Abrams (R), has already introduced a bill that would put $40 million in cannabis tax dollars toward law enforcement training annually. Only after that point would additional revenue trickle into the funds outlined in the statute.
Some Democrats have separately discussed potential amendments that they’d like to see incorporated, including allocating some revenue to K-12 public education. There also appears to be bipartisan interest in providing some funding for mental health services to support first responders with post-traumatic stress disorder (PSTD).
The Ohio Department of Commerce was quick to publish an FAQ guide for residents to learn about the new law and timeline for implementation, though regulators repeatedly noted that the policies may be subject to change depending on how the legislature acts.
Prohibitionist organizations that campaigned against Issue 2, meanwhile, are set on a fundamental undermining of the newly approved law, with some describing plans to pressure the legislature to entirely repeal legalization before it’s even implemented.
For what it’s worth, a number of Ohio lawmakers said in September that they doubted the legislature would seek to repeal a voter-passed legalization law. The Senate president affirmed repeal wasn’t part of the agenda, at least not in the next year.
—Marijuana Moment is tracking more than 1,000 cannabis, psychedelics and drug policy bills in state legislatures and Congress this year. Patreon supporters pledging at least $25/month get access to our interactive maps, charts and hearing calendar so they don’t miss any developments.Learn more about our marijuana bill tracker and become a supporter on Patreon to get access.—
Voters were only able to decide on the issue after lawmakers declined to take the opportunity to pass their own reform as part of the ballot qualification process. They were given months to enact legalization that they could have molded to address their outstanding concerns, but the legislature ultimately deferred to voters by default.
As early voting kicked off late last month, the GOP-controlled Senate passed a resolution urging residents to reject measure.
Unlike the top state Republican lawmakers, one of the state’s GOP representatives in Congress—Rep. Dave Joyce, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said in September that he would be voting in favor of the initiative in November. He encouraged “all Ohio voters to participate and make their voices heard on this important issue.”
Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said late last month he voted in favor of the legalization ballot initiative, calling it a “hard decision” but one that was based on his belief that the reform would promote “safety” for consumers.
Meanwhile, Vivek Ramaswamy, a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, said he voted against a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Ohio because he’s concerned the federal government could “weaponize” criminalization against people who are engaged in state-legal cannabis activities under the “fake” pretense that they’re protected from federal prosecution.
Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for his part, said recently that Ohio’s vote to legalize marijuana at the ballot is one of the latest examples of how Americans are rejecting “MAGA extremism,” and he added that he’s committed to continuing to work on a bipartisan basis “to keep moving on bipartisan cannabis legislation as soon as we can.”
Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, told Marijuana Moment earlier this month that “the vote in Ohio was a great big exclamation point on the things we’ve been talking about.”
“We’ve been saying for years how this issue has crested, how it’s got broad momentum, how it is inclusive. It’s sort of like the success with the [Ohio abortion rights] issue—except this was more pronounced,” he said. “We got more votes than the abortion issue. We get more votes than anybody on the ballot.”
The White House has separately said that “nothing has changed” with President Joe Biden’s stance on marijuana, declining to say if he supports Ohio’s vote to legalize or whether he backs further reform of federal cannabis laws.
Meanwhile, as Ohio voters approved statewide legalization, activists also chalked up a series of little-noticed wins to decriminalize larger amounts of cannabis in three Ohio cities, according to preliminary county election results.
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