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Ohio Voters Legalize Marijuana [FEATURE]

Submitted by Phillip Smith on (Issue #1197)

Ohio voters decisively embraced the Issue 2 marijuana legalization initiative Tuesday, approving it with 56.8 percent of the vote as of early Wednesday morning. The Issue 1 abortion rights initiative also passed, with a similar margin, garnering 56.3 percent of the vote.

Ohio now becomes the 24th state to legalize marijuana and the 14th to do so via the initiative process. And with Ohio joining the free-the-weed club, for the first time, a majority of Americans live in states where marijuana is legal.

"Marijuana is no longer a controversial issue," said Tom Haren, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. "Ohioans demonstrated this by passing state Issue 2 in a landslide. Ohioans are being extremely clear on the future they want for our state: adult-use marijuana legal and regulated."

"This is a great day for Ohio, which now joins the growing number of conservative-leaning states that have ended the injustice of cannabis prohibition," said Matthew Schweich, executive director of the Marijuana Policy Project. "Our organization is proud to have been a member of a strong coalition of groups that advanced common sense cannabis policy for the people of Ohio by supporting Issue 2. This victory represents the culmination of a years-long effort, as MPP also played a pivotal role in the passage of Ohio's medical cannabis law in 2015."

"Cannabis legalization is an issue that unites Democrats, Republicans, and Independents," said Paul Armentano, deputy director of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws. "Ohioans have seen similar legalization laws adopted in neighboring states and they know that regulating the cannabis market is preferable to the failed policy of prohibition. It is imperative that elected officials respect the voters' decision and implement this measure in a manner that is consistent with the sentiments of the majority of the electorate."

Under Issue 2, people 21 and over will be able to lawfully possess up to 2 ½ ounces of marijuana and 15 grams of extracts. The initiative also includes a home grow provision allowing for up to six plants, with a limit of 12 per household, but landlords will be allowed to bar home grows in their properties.

The initiative will impose a 10 percent retail sales tax on marijuana purchases above and beyond state and local sales taxes. Marijuana tax revenues will go to public safety, road improvement, drug treatment and prevention, with more than 30 percent reserved for social equity investments for people and communities "disproportionately affected by Ohio's marijuana policy." (That is the only social equity provision in the initiative; it does not include any provisions for expungement of marijuana-related criminal records -- a task presumably to be left to the legislature.)

Issue 2 will create a Division of Marijuana Control inside the state Department of Commerce and will place the state's existing medical marijuana regulators in charge of licensing and setting rules for implementing the new law. Existing medical marijuana operations will be able to obtain new adult-use licenses, and regulators will also have 40 new licenses to hand out for smaller commercial cultivators and 50 licenses for new adult-use retail outlets. No one will be able to hold more than eight retail licenses or one cultivator license, but cultivators will be allowed to expand their size by four- or five-fold to serve a growing customer base.

Where retail or cultivation operations can operate will be up to municipal authorities, who can prohibit them from operating, but who cannnot force closure or limitation of existing marijuana facilities.

And Issue 2 will allow employers to fire or refuse to hire employees who fail marijuana drug tests.

Because the measure is a statutory question rather than a constitutional amendment, state lawmakers have the option of amending, or even repealing, its provisions. Prior to today's vote, members of the GOP-led Ohio Senate passed a resolution urging voters to reject the initiative and Republican Gov. Mike DeWine spoke out against the measure. The state's Senate leader has also expressed his desire to revisit provisions of the new law and propose legislative changes, so the fight is not over.

Provisions in the law legalizing the possession and home cultivation of marijuana by adults take effect upon certification of the election results December 7th. The measure calls upon regulators to begin issuing retail licenses by late 2024.

Permission to Reprint: This content is licensed under a modified Creative Commons Attribution license. Content of a purely educational nature in Drug War Chronicle appear courtesy of DRCNet Foundation, unless otherwise noted.

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