Ohio became the 24th state to legalize marijuana for adult use on November 8, 2023, after voters approved a ballot initiative that allows possession, cultivation, and sales of cannabis. However, some lawmakers in the state legislature are trying to change the voter-passed law, which has sparked criticism from a pro-legalization representative.
Rep. Brent Warns Against Undermining Legalization Law
Rep. Juanita Brent (D), who has been a vocal supporter of marijuana legalization and social equity, warned her colleagues that they risk losing reelection if they go against the will of the people. She made the remarks during a panel organized by the Ohio State University Drug Enforcement and Policy Center last week.
Brent said that the legalization law, which was supported by 57 percent of Ohio voters, reflects the changing attitudes and preferences of the public on cannabis policy. She cautioned against proposals that would redirect tax revenue from cannabis sales to law enforcement, reduce the amount of marijuana that adults can possess or grow, or impose stricter potency limits on cannabis products.
“If we go against the people in the state of Ohio, I don’t expect any of us to get reelected because we are not going for what the people want,” Brent said.
Legalization Law Takes Effect Amid Legislative Attempts To Alter It
The legalization law took effect on December 7, 2023, allowing adults 21 and older to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and grow up to six plants for personal use. The law also imposes a 10 percent excise tax on cannabis sales, which will fund an equity and jobs program that aims to help communities and individuals harmed by the war on drugs.
The law also creates a new cannabis regulatory agency, which has nine months to establish rules and regulations for the adult-use market. The agency is expected to issue licenses for cultivators, processors, testing labs, retailers, and delivery services by September 2024.
However, the law faces challenges from some lawmakers who want to make changes to it. On Wednesday, the Senate passed a bill that would cut the home grow limit to three plants, increase the excise tax to 15 percent, and allow medical marijuana dispensaries to serve recreational customers immediately. The bill would also scrap the equity and jobs program and instead allocate the tax revenue to law enforcement training, substance abuse treatment, and the state’s general fund. The bill would also require expungements for past marijuana convictions upon request, rather than automatically as the law mandates.
The House Finance committee is considering its own bill, which is closer to the voter-passed law. The House bill would keep the home grow limit at six plants, the excise tax at 10 percent, and the equity and jobs program intact. The House bill would also allow automatic expungements for past marijuana offenses and create a social equity license category for cannabis businesses.
Legalization Supporters Criticize Senate Bill, Urge House To Respect Voters’ Choice
The legalization campaign, which was led by the Ohio Cannabis Rights Coalition and the Marijuana Policy Project, denounced the Senate bill as a “betrayal” of the voters and urged the House to reject it. The campaign said that the Senate bill would undermine the core goals of the legalization law, such as creating a fair and competitive market, generating revenue for social good, and ending the criminalization of cannabis consumers.
Tom Haren, a spokesperson for the campaign, said that the Senate bill would also fail to eliminate the illicit market and would drive Ohioans to buy marijuana from neighboring states like Michigan, where cannabis is legal and cheaper. He said that the Senate bill would “still leave Ohioans behind” and “still leave Ohioans in jail.”
Haren said that the campaign is hopeful that the House will respect the will of the voters and pass a bill that preserves the key provisions of the legalization law. He said that the campaign is ready to work with lawmakers to address any concerns or issues they may have with the law, but not at the expense of the voters’ choice.
“We are not opposed to reasonable changes or improvements to the law, but we are opposed to any changes that would undermine the intent and the spirit of the law,” Haren said.