Ohio lawmakers have forfeited an opportunity to enact an activist-led marijuana legalization proposal, letting a statutory deadline to take up the issue by Wednesday lapse and instead leaving it to advocates to pick up where they left off on signature gathering to place the measure on the ballot.
Ohio’s secretary of state submitted the reform legislation to lawmakers in January, giving them four months to consider legalizing cannabis before an election law was triggered that now frees up advocates to continue petitioning to put the reform directly before voters.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) initially worked to put the legalization initiative on last year’s ballot, but procedural complications prevented that from happening. Activists turned in enough signatures to trigger the legislative review, but the timing of their initial submission was challenged.
CTRMLA’s lawsuit to force ballot placement was unsuccessful with respect to the 2022 election, but the state agreed to a settlement that meant they would not have to collect another round of initial signatures and that the initiative would be immediately retransmitted to the legislature at the start of the 2023 session.
“We pursued an initiated statute so that we could engage with the General Assembly on this issue. We were disappointed that the legislature ignored the majority of Ohioans who support better marijuana policy,” CTRMLA spokesman Tom Haren told Marijuana Moment. “But we always knew this was a possibility and are prepared to move forward toward November.”
When the legislature was presented with the initiative last year, lawmakers similarly declined to act. Now that they’ve opted for inaction again, the campaign will need to collect another round of 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters to secure ballot placement.
“We will begin gathering signatures this week as soon as we are legally able,” Haren said. “We remain committed to giving a Ohio voters a chance to make their voices heard this November.”
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Citing polling data, Haren said his campaign is “confident” the measure would be approved by voters if it gets on the ballot.
“Legalizing and regulating marijuana like alcohol will provide an alternative to the illegal market, keep marijuana out of the hands of kids, fund investments in social equity, and generate new tax revenue for the state of Ohio,” he added. “It’s good policy and Ohio voters understand that.”
Last session, a pair of Ohio Democratic lawmakers separately filed a bill to legalize marijuana that directly mirrored the proposed ballot initiative, but it did not advance in time.
A GOP legislator who sponsored a different bill to tax and regulate cannabis has tempered expectations about the chances for legislative reform, signaling that the issue will likely have to be decided by voters.
The House Finance Committee held a hearing on the Democratic and Republican legalization bills in December, but no votes were held.
Ohioans have made clear that they’re ready for a policy change during elections in multiple recent cycles, including this latest one in November where voters in five more cities approved local marijuana decriminalization ballot initiatives.
Lawmakers might have given up the chance to legislatively tackle adult-use marijuana legalization before Wednesday’s deadline, but the conservative legislature has been considering major overhauls to the state’s medical cannabis program this session.
Also, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signed a major criminal justice reform bill in January that will let cities facilitate mass expungements for people with certain drug-related convictions, including marijuana possession of up to 200 grams.
After the law took effect, the mayor of Cleveland said in April that the city will be moving forward with plans to seal thousands of cannabis records.
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