Will Ohio Legalize Marijuana in 2021 or 2022 for Recreational Use?
Will Ohio, “the heart of America,” legalize recreational marijuana in 2021 or 2022 for adult use? Were advocates of a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana able to collect enough signatures for the initiative? It seems inevitable, but when will Ohio legalize marijuana? Let’s find out.
If Ohio were to legalize marijuana it could become a major player in the North American cannabis market. Ohio is the 7th most populated in the U.S. but ranks 34th in terms of size, making it the 10th most densely populated state in the country. Moreover, Ohio has a climate and geography well suited for cultivating cannabis.
However, the state faces some obstacles when it comes to the full legalization of recreational marijuana in Ohio.
Voters in the state have already given the thumbs up to medical marijuana legislation. Although the program, which was approved by voters in 2016, has gotten off to a slow start. Ohio dispensaries started selling medical cannabis in early 2019. Because of this, residents seem to be lightening up about lighting up a recreational marijuana program.
Ohio voters in 2015 roundly rejected a push to legalize marijuana for adult use, but some think that’s a poor indicator of the state’s interest in legalizing commercial cannabis. The 2015 measure drew criticism at the time even from traditional allies of reform, many of whom criticized the proposal’s licensing provisions that would give a near-monopoly on cultivation to the same investors who had funded the ballot initiative.
Let’s take a look at what’s happening with the current Ohio marijuana legalization initiative, who’s for and who’s against legalizing marijuana in Ohio in 2020, as well as the measure’s chances of succeeding.
Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Amendment
Ohio marijuana legalization initiative
At the beginning of the year, advocates were working toward putting legalization on Ohio’s ballot this November. A formal initiative proposal was filed in early March. In order to qualify for the November ballot, activists needed to collect around 443,000 valid voter signatures including at least 10 percent of residents in each municipality by the end of July.
Unfortunately, the effort stalled because of the coronavirus outbreak. Social distancing measures made signature-gathering all but impossible. However, in early May, a federal judge ruled that activists can collect signatures electronically and also extended the deadline to submit signatures from July 1 to July 31. But that wasn’t enough to save the campaign.
In mid-May, it was announced that the signature-gathering effort would be temporarily suspended. With the deadline passed, advocates are now looking towards the 2022 election.
The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Amendment marijuana legalization initiative calls for an amendment to Ohio’s constitution that would permit adults over age 21 to possess marijuana.
It would also open the door for up to 200 recreational marijuana dispensaries in the state. Under the current proposal, the state’s more than 100 medical marijuana businesses would be the first to open to non-medical users. Local cities and towns would be able to limit the number of marijuana businesses and limit their hour or ban them completely. And tax revenue from the program would help fund diversity programs
This could happen as early as 2023. It could also happen sooner if the Ohio state legislature decides to act on marijuana legalization legislation.
Ohio marijuana decriminalization bill
In early July 2020, the Ohio Senate passed renovations to the state’s decriminalization laws doubling the possession limits before criminal charges are warranted. If the measure is signed into law, anyone caught with up to seven ounces of marijuana would get a $150 ticket.
Get caught with anything over 7 ounces up to 14 ounces and you could be charged with a fourth-degree misdemeanor, and 400 to 1,000 grams would warrant first-degree misdemeanor charges.
A total of 17 cities in Ohio cities have already passed decriminalization laws either via ballot measures of city council votes including Dayton, Toledo, Athens, Cincinnati, Columbus, and Cleveland.
Opposition To Legal Marijuana In Ohio
Although eight petitions to legalize marijuana have been certified by authorities over the past five years, only one has made it onto a ballot. Even though a 2015 Quinnipiac University poll showed that 53 percent of Ohio voters were ready to legalize recreational marijuana, voters rejected the previous attempt by a margin of 2 to 1.
Many believe the measure failed because it gave a monopoly to a handful of stakeholders. Those pushing the new initiative promise not to make that same mistake again.
Ian James, director of the ResponsibleOhio, the campaign behind the 2015 initiative claims that the Quinnipiac poll confirms that Ohio voters want to legalize marijuana.
Although voters approved the 2016 medical marijuana initiative by a comfortable margin, it’s not clear if residents in the state are ready to move on creating a recreational market. Ohioans have been leaning red in recent elections. Furthermore, the state has already decriminalized marijuana and many voters feel that creating a market for the drug is taking the issue too far.
One of the main opponents to legalizing marijuana in Ohio in 2020 is incoming governor Mike DeWine. On April 20, the state’s former attorney general rejected a petition that sought to fully legalize marijuana in Ohio. And after a 2015 visit to Colorado to assess that state’s legal recreational marijuana program, DeWine stated that he was “alarmed” by the state’s recreational cannabis program, specifically condemning the state’s laws as they pertain to cannabis-infused edibles.
Fortunately, because the initiative would invoke a constitutional amendment, DeWine would not be able to veto legislation offhand. And with more than 50 percent of the state’s voters in favor of legalizing marijuana, the chances of Ohio legalizing marijuana in 2022 are high (no pun intended).
In the meantime, according to nonprofit marijuana advocacy group NORML, under current Ohio marijuana laws, anyone caught with less than 100 grams of marijuana in their possession faces a misdemeanor charge and a fine of $150. However, if you’re caught selling marijuana in the state you could be looking at a minimum of one year in prison and a fine of $2,500.