Ohio recreational marijuana backers eye 2023 ballot, as legislature looks at expanding medical marijuana
COLUMBUS, Ohio –Backers of an Ohio recreational marijuana legalization proposal aim to place the initiated statute before voters in November 2023, an attorney representing the group said Monday.
Meantime, the General Assembly may pass by the end of the year a bill that would allow the drug for any condition “that the patient’s symptoms may reasonably be expected to be relieved from medical marijuana.”
Currently, medical marijuana is allowed for 22 conditions – such as chronic traumatic encephalopathy, ulcerative colitis and Tourette’s syndrome.
Patients have expressed frustration over the program’s limitations. For instance, autism spectrum disorder is not an allowed condition, even though parents of children on the spectrum who self-harm said they would like to try marijuana.
Ohio Senate Bill 261 and the recreational proposal come after these criticisms.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the recreational campaign, is made up of marijuana business owners.
It raised $212,500 in the first half of 2022, according to its most recent campaign finance report, filed in July. Last year it raised $1.3 million. The campaign initially tried to get on ballots in November but delayed the campaign after a lawsuit and settlement with the state.
Of the $212,500 raised this year, $150,000 came from the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization organization.
Another $50,000 came from the Akron company that owns Klutch Cannabis, an Ohio medical marijuana cultivator and processor, and its founder and CEO Adam Thomarios.
The remaining $12,500 came from Youngstown-based Riviera Creek, another cultivator and processor, and Brian Kessler and Daniel Kessler, the CEO and chairman.
Earlier this year, the Just Like Alcohol campaign and state legislative leaders went to court over deadlines and timing of the multi-step process necessary to get an initiated statue on the ballot.
They settled out of court, and under the settlement, the recreational proposal is to be presented to the Ohio General Assembly in early January. The legislature has four months to pass a bill similar to it, said Tom Haren, the attorney working on the recreational campaign.
The legislature is likely not to act on the proposal. Legislative leaders have said they won’t think Ohio should have recreational marijuana. So in early May, the proposal is expected to return to the backers, who need to get about 130,000 signatures to get it on the November 2023 ballot.
The campaign will have about eight weeks to get those signatures if it wants to get on the November ballot. If it cannot get enough signatures by early July, then it could aim for the November 2024 ballot, and continue to collect more signatures.
“We expect that we’ll be able to do it,” Haren said about the deadlines for 2023. “We’ll have staff get ready. Our intention is to give Ohio voters an opportunity to weigh in if the General Assembly continues to ignore them.”
The proposal would create a single state agency to regulate marijuana, the Division of Cannabis Control. Currently there are state regulators in medical marijuana. People age 21 and older could buy marijuana for recreational use.
Marijuana purchasers would be taxed 10% at the point of sale for each transaction. Tax revenues would be divided among a number of entities, including local communities with marijuana businesses, a substance abuse and addiction fund and a fund aimed at “social equity” and jobs for communities that have been negatively affected by the war on drugs
SB261, which passed the Senate last December, had a fifth hearing in an Ohio House committee on Nov. 17. Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp, a Lima Republican, said at a recent event that there was interest among members to pass the bill during lame duck – the frenzied days between the November election and end of the year, when many lawmakers leave office.
SB 261 would also change the regulatory structure of marijuana, putting it under a new agency that would be called the Division of Marijuana Control, within the Ohio Department of Commerce.
The bill would increase the number of dispensaries throughout the state. Currently, there are about 55, although the Ohio Board of Pharmacy is working to license another roughly 70 retailers.
The bill would also increase the square footage under which cultivators can grow marijuana and increase the permissible level of THC, the active ingredient in marijuana, from not more than 70% to 90%.