Supporters of legalization in Ohio are forecasting a win at the ballot box on Nov. 7, but much will be left to lawmakers regarding the shape of the adult use industry.
Issue 2, the citizen-initiated ballot measure, proposes a framework for cannabis sales and to allow Ohio adults to grow up to six cannabis plants at home. However, because Issue 2 is an initiated statute, not a constitutional amendment, the state’s General Assembly will have a great deal of latitude to tweak, revise, overhaul, or even repeal the will of the voters.
Ahead of the vote, The Ohio State University hosted a virtual panel on Monday titled “The Will of the Voters?: The Future of Adult-Use Marijuana in Ohio.” Douglas Berman, executive director of the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at OSU moderated. Speakers included: State Rep. Josh Williams; John Carney, a lawyer with Porter Wright Morris & Arthur LLP and a three-term member of the Ohio General Assembly; Jason Ortiz, director of strategic initiatives at the Last Prisoner Project; and Lynn Silver, a pediatrician and senior advisor at the Public Health Institute.
Recent polling shows roughly 57% of Ohioans support Issue 2. While this isn’t a slam dunk for passage, most panelists indicated that they thought it would pass, especially considering there isn’t a well-funded opposition in the state. There is some big name opposition, though, including from the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Sheriffs’ Association. Meanwhile, Gov. Mike DeWine doesn’t support legalization, and it’s unclear where many members of the General Assembly stand on specific aspects of cannabis policy, from potency limits to advertising.
Williams said that lawmakers will respect the will of the voters, but Ohioans should expect substantial changes.
“I believe it does need to be modified substantially. So, I know discussions have already started inside of the House of Representatives,” Williams said. “If it passes, we will look to try to provide a regulatory scheme, a statutory scheme that comports with the rest of our criminal justice system and taxation system here in the state of Ohio to make it a workable solution, a sort of compromise.”
Some of those areas where lawmakers are already zeroing in include allocation of tax revenue, how legalization can affect gun rights, youth use, and home cultivation, Williams said.
Ortiz emphasized the importance of legal home grow and pointed out that Issue 2 doesn’t include automatic expungement for crimes made legal under the new law.
“Home grow will likely be a big point of contention as the legislature decides on all the details. But I think where it’s our responsibility is to make sure that the legislature does not lose sight of criminal justice reforms,” Ortiz said.
Silver suggested that voters reject Issue 2’s approach and start anew, with an approach that seeks “expressly to avoid creating a new big tobacco.” Quebec, she said, for example,restricts product types sold and advertising, she said, adding that no one needs “Cookies sweatshirts” appearing in the nation’s schools.
“We can do this in the United States,” Silver said, adding that she’d like to see plain packaging, clear warnings, and regulations “integrated” with hemp rules to ensure that intoxicating hemp products aren’t sold.
“As we speak, the cannabis industry lobbyists are likely inundating the halls of the General Assembly. They’re probably making campaign donations just as the tobacco industry did,” Silver said.
Carney said that he predicts that if Issue 2 passes, the General Assembly won’t make any real moves until December 2024. He added that, like it or not, the cannabis industry’s money will be flowing to Columbus.
“I don’t think, if this passes, that the General Assembly is going to do a lot to try to turn this back. I think you will have marijuana regulated like alcohol in Ohio, and I think they’ll be tinkering on that as that moves forward,” Carney said. “All the while, the industry will be making money and making contributions and growing in clout around the General Assembly. And I think they will have a check on the General Assembly doing anything.”
Williams said he sees an opportunity for amendments both as add-ons to other bills and also during the budget cycle.
“A lot of times the industry will have the ability then to come into the budget cycle, meet with representatives and senators, and push amendments forward to clarify the language,” Williams said. “And I easily could see the recreational marijuana industry and the medical marijuana industry in the state of Ohio coming in, looking at reform.”