Representatives Casey Weinstein and Terrence Upchurch, co-sponsors of a cannabis legalization bill in Ohio, hosted a virtual town hall Thursday night. Their adult use plan has arrived just as a ballot initiative push is clearing its first key hurdles. After rejecting the first version of a petition to place legalization on the fall 2021 ballot, the Ohio Attorney General’s Office certified a revised petition last week.
“We’re at a tipping point nationally where the majority of American citizens will soon live in a decriminalized state,” Weinstein told Cannabis Wire. “So in this sense, it’s good that Ohio kind of waited and saw what was working and what wasn’t nationally. And we can look at these laboratories of democracy, as they are often called, and take the best practices, which is what we did with our bill.”
Weinstein said that he and Upchurch took “elements” from Washington and Colorado, the first two states in the country where voters legalized, in 2012, and from more recent states to legalize, like Michigan and Illinois. The proposal put forward by Weinstein and Upchurch allows adults 21 and older to buy cannabis and cannabis products at retail shops, and to grow at home, and would expunge convictions for activity that would be legal under the bill.
(Read Cannabis Wire’s previous coverage of failed legalization efforts in Ohio.)
Ohio’s legislature is Republican-controlled, which means a steep climb, and Gov. Mike DeWine has said that he doesn’t support adult use legalization.
“The fact that there’s a ballot initiative that could circumvent the whole process will hopefully compel [Gov. DeWine] to take it through a process where we have citizen input, we have bipartisan input, and administration input, and kind of force him to the table because that’s where he needs to be,” Weinstein said.
Even with these potential hurdles with DeWine and the legislature, Weinstein said that “their constituents want it. I can guarantee that.”
Weinstein told Cannabis Wire ahead of the town hall that he sees the ballot effort more as synergy than competition, and that polling indicates that a ballot initiative would have 65% voter support.
“For me, this is like: let a thousand flowers bloom,” he said. “This is a good thing, right, if there’s a lot of effort going on nationally, and at the state level.”
“We can go through sort of using the scalpel of the legislative process or the hammer of a constitutional ballot initiative. And I hope that compels my friends on the other side to join a bill. I hear they are working on their own, which is great,” Weinstein told Cannabis Wire.
During Thursday’s town hall, Weinstein and Upchurch were joined by: Geoff Korff, CEO of Galenas, a cultivation facility in Akron; Timothy Young, the Ohio Public Defender; Robert Kowalski, a U.S. Air Force veteran and medical cannabis advocate; and Rob Moore, a Principal at Scioto Analysis, a public policy analysis firm.
The town hall was largely a “myth busting” effort, Weinstein said, to directly address some common concerns around cannabis legalization, from fears of a rise in crime to the gateway drug argument.
One of the first questions Weinstein asked, for example, was directed at Young.
“Does this cannabis use lead to more violent crime? That is a question I get asked a lot. So I want to address that head on tonight,” he said.
“No,” Young replied. He continued, drawing a distinction between his response, which was focused on individuals, and the crime that can take place within an illegal trade, “I’ve been a public defender for twenty seven years, and just anecdotally, from my own experience of the thousands and thousands of cases I’ve handled, I’ve never, not once in my entire career, handled a case that involved marijuana and also involved violence.”
The conversation also covered the slow growth of the state’s medical cannabis program, and affordability and accessibility concerns raised by patients. Toward the end of the hour, Weinstein took questions from the chat, of which many unsurprisingly focused on the status of the bill.
“Rep. Upchurch and I have filed the bill. I’m getting a lot of questions on that. It is awaiting assignment to committee. We reconvene here in a few weeks for the fall session, and he and I are going to be working hard to get hearings in the committee process. Of course, we will communicate that to everybody,” Weinstein said.
“We don’t yet have a Republican co-sponsor on the bill,” he continued, “but I have heard from a lot of folks who support it and I’ve heard of additional efforts going on legislatively. And there’s nothing like our bill and the constitutional ballot initiative to help force that forward. So I am bullish on this issue being moved forward significantly this fall.”