Ohioans Will Vote on Recreational Marijuana in November

Ohioans Will Vote on Recreational Marijuana in November

This story was reprinted with permission from Crain’s Cleveland and written by Jeremy Nobile.

After a number of fits and starts, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol appears to have succeeded in getting its proposed law for an adult-use marijuana program on the November ballot.

While the Ohio Secretary of State’s office has not yet announced that the CRMLA’s referendum is coming before voters, as of the afternoon of Wednesday, Aug. 16, the campaign had enough verified signatures from Franklin County alone to clear its last hurdle to the ballot.

With the CRMLA’s measure proposed as an initiated statute, the coalition needed to collect two tranches of voter signatures – 132,877 and then 124,046 – to reach the ballot.

The group was told in July that it had come up 679 verified signatures shy in that second batch. But the campaign mobilized to collect and submit petitions with another 6,545 signatures within its 10-day corrective period.

That amount might seem like overkill, but the group wanted to be sure it didn’t come up short once again. After all, the CRMLA had submitted more than 220,000 signatures in its second tranche, yet 56% of those were disqualified.

According to a certification form, the campaign has at least 711 valid signature from Franklin County voters, which is enough to qualify the measure for the November ballot.

CRMLA officials have declined to comment until official word comes in from the state, however.

If approved, the proposed law would:

Legalize possession and regulate the cultivation, manufacture, testing and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for adults age 21 and older.
Legalize home grow for adults 21 and older, with a limit of six plants per adult but 12 plants per household.
Establish a 10% excise tax for adult-use sales at the point of sale.
Create protocols for licensing additional cultivators, processors and dispensaries.
Establish a framework for use of annual tax-generated proceeds. That includes separate carve-outs of 36% for social equity and jobs programs; 36% to be divvied up among communities that host adult-use dispensaries; 25% to fund education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues; and 3% to fund a Division of Cannabis Control.

If the measure is ratified — making Ohio the 24th state to permit recreational marijuana despite federal prohibition — there will still be some time before an adult-use market is operational.

The law itself would go into effect 30 days after election results are certified.

At that time, marijuana possession for adults 21 and older would be legal.

However, because of how the CRMLA law is written, campaign spokesman Tom Haren indicated that existing medical marijuana dispensaries may be required to secure additional licenses to conduct recreational sales. Whether the state would simply permit medical dispensaries to make adult-use sales is unclear at this time — regulators likely view that question as irrelevant until laws are changed.

Therefore, it could take several months after the election before drinking-age adults are able to buy legal marijuana without a medical card at an Ohio dispensary. Because of that, Haren suggested that it could be sometime in the second half of 2024 that an adult-use market is operational.

A recreational market could be a boon for marijuana companies grappling with lackluster medical sales and an oversupply of product.

It’s also worth noting that the Division of Cannabis Control that the CRMLA’s law would create was designed to bring regulation of licensed marijuana companies — which have been subject to oversight by both the Ohio Department of Commerce and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy — under one entity. Dealing with more than one regulator has been a common complaint among licensed marijuana companies, some of which have been backing the legalization effort alongside groups like the Marijuana Policy Project.

This year’s biannual state budget included a provision establishing a Division of Marijuana Control within the commerce department, however, eliminating the board of pharmacy as a regulator. That change is to take effect by the end of the year.

Despite the slight difference in name, it’s expected that anything applying to that Division of Cannabis Control would apply to the soon-to-be Division of Marijuana Control.

It’s been a long road for the CRMLA, which first began work on its initiated statute in 2020. The campaign had been stymied by the COVID-19 pandemic as well as a challenge in 2022 by Republican lawmakers.

Pointing to the overall popularity of legalization, CRMLA officials have regularly expressed confidence that its proposed law will pass when the day comes.

According to Gallup, 68% of Americans favor marijuana legalization. And according to a Spectrum News/Sienna College poll last fall, a majority of Ohioans support legalization – though that survey had a relatively small sample size.

The last time Ohio had a chance to vote on recreational marijuana was in 2015 via the ill-fated Issue 3, which just 35% of voters supported.

That measure would’ve written into the Ohio constitution provisions restricting cultivation to just 10 pre-selected companies. Anti-Issue 3 campaigns locked onto that detail and framed the measure as creating a cannabis monopoly (though it would’ve actually been an oligopoly).

That campaign also marked the debut of “Buddie,” a cartoony superhero mascot with a marijuana bud for a head that clearly didn’t win over many voters.

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