COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Voters in Ohio have approved an initiative to become the 24th state in the nation to legalize recreational marijuana, the Associated Press has projected.
Issue 2 passed on Tuesday’s ballot to allow adult-use sale, purchase and possession of cannabis for Ohioans who are 21 and older. The measure, effective 30 days after the election, permits adults to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrate and grow up to six plants at home.
“Marijuana is no longer a controversial issue,” said Tom Haren, spokesperson for pro-Issue 2 group 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.”
Those in Ohio who purchase cannabis will pay a 10% excise tax, the same rate as Michigan and Illinois, plus a 5.75% state tax, in addition to a local tax ranging from 0.25% to 2.25%. Some of the tax revenue will go toward equity and jobs programs, according to the initiative’s text. Patients within the state’s medical marijuana program will not be subject to the tax.
Ohio’s rate could generate $182 million to $218 million during the first full year of operations, according to estimates from Ohio State University’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center. By the fifth year, the state could collect $336 million to $403 million from an excise tax on marijuana.
“With the passage of Issue 2, now is the time for the legislature to lead on how best to allocate tax revenues while responsibly regulating the industry,” said Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill). “Investing in county jail construction and funding law enforcement training across Ohio should be our top priority to make our communities safer.”
Issue 2 will not automatically erase the criminal records of those previously charged with marijuana offenses. Still, the initiated statute will use 36% of tax revenue to launch a social equity and jobs program dedicated to sentencing, bail and parole reform, along with record-sealing and expungement efforts.
In addition, 3% of tax revenue will be dedicated to regulatory and administrative costs, 25% to addiction treatment and education, and another 36% to funding for communities home to marijuana dispensaries.
While Issue 2 will not expunge criminal records, Gov. Mike DeWine signed into law Senate Bill 288 earlier this year that streamlines the process to erase misdemeanor convictions, including low-level marijuana charges. Ohio is also home to 38 cities that have decriminalized marijuana through the Sensible Movement Coalition, removing the penalties for possessing less than 200 grams.
Issue 2 will also establish the Division of Cannabis Control within the Ohio Department of Commerce to oversee the compliance of the marijuana industry by regulating, investigating and penalizing cannabis operators and facilities.
Secretary of State Frank LaRose announced Aug. 16 that the statute to legalize recreational marijuana would join an abortion rights constitutional amendment and local elections — such as Columbus’ election for mayor and city council — on the Nov. 7 ballot.
Unlike the abortion rights amendment, Issue 2 appears as an initiated statute — giving state lawmakers the final word. The governor does not have the authority to veto a proposal made law via the ballot, according to the Ohio Constitution, but legislators can still propose and pass modifications to the new law after the election.
Who voted ‘yes’?
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol claims the initiative will break barriers for veterans needing access to medical marijuana and generate millions of dollars that will be reinvested into local communities.
“Regulating marijuana like alcohol is the right decision for Ohio to ensure that veterans and patients have much needed access to medical marijuana, to ensure that we can keep marijuana out of the hands of kids, and to ensure that we put the black market out of business,” said Tom Haren, the coalition’s spokesperson.
Several Democratic leaders have backed Issue 2, including Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) who previously introduced legislation at the Statehouse to legalize recreational cannabis.
“I view it as a personal liberty and a privacy issue, to be able to have home grow,” Weinstein said. “And plus, for a lot of folks who can’t afford access to the market, this provides a pathway to do this.”
Who voted ‘no’?
Protect Ohio Workers and Families, the anti-Issue 2 coalition, claims the initiative could have negative effects on minors in the state, like an increase in accidental ingestions. Issue 2 would also cause Ohio to suffer 48 more fatal car crashes and 2,298 more injury crashes, according to the group’s projections.
“Why would we ever go to the ballot and knowingly, willingly, vote these new death and injuries upon ourselves, our families, our neighbors? It’s cruel and unthinkable,” said Gary Wolske, Ohio Fraternal Order of Police president. “These statistics are real and this will happen, if not exactly these numbers, then something like them.”
Many Republican leaders are opponents of Issue 2, including Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) who said “a lot more people are going to fall in the river if marijuana is legal recreational.” Gov. Mike DeWine has also expressed concern with an increased number of people driving under the influence.
“We’re dealing with a different marijuana,” DeWine said. “It’s not your grandfather’s marijuana.”