The Nov. 7 election could make Ohio the next state to legalize marijuana. Issue 2 is the citizen-initiated statute that has the potential to make legalization happen.
The proposed law was written by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. If enacted, the law will legalize the sale and use of marijuana for adults at least 21 years old and legalize homegrown plants.
Tom Haren, spokesperson for the coalition, said marijuana prohibition is a failed policy.
“Too many people – including too many young people, too many people of color – have their lives ruined by small marijuana convictions or run-ins with law enforcement,” Haren said. “It can make it harder to get a job, it can make it harder to get a loan or to qualify for financial aid, or to get into the college of your choice.”
While recreational use is illegal, Ohio has a medical marijuana program that is regulated under Ohio House Bill 523, which allows individuals with certain medical conditions to obtain the drug for medicinal use.
Access can be restricted for a variety of reasons, according to Haren, including federal restrictions, lack of dispensaries or having a condition that doesn’t qualify for the program.
“A large part of the reason why we're pursuing this is to ensure that clients who need access to cannabis to treat their pain or their chronic conditions have access that they don't currently have to our medical marijuana program,” Haren said.
The proposed law will collect 10% of sales tax on marijuana, which will be used to fund several initiatives; 36% of the tax will go to social equity and job programs, another 36% will support the local dispensary’s community, 25% will go toward addiction treatment and education, and 3% is for the regulatory and administrative costs of the program.
If passed, sales can be made at licensed Ohio dispensaries. Athens, Ohio, currently has two dispensaries, Harvest of Athens and Debbie’s Dispensary, with another on the way, Big Perm’s.
“Medical marijuana sales in Ohio have been in effect for just over four years now with maybe 2% of Ohioans actually taking advantage of the Medical Marijuana Control Program. If Issue 2 passes, those numbers will be sure to increase, even with the stipulations and hurdles that some predict,” Harvest of Ohio Representative, Jeané Holley, wrote in an email.
Holley said eligible dispensaries will be able to receive an adult-use dispensary license within nine months after the law is passed to sell for recreational use.
“With the stigma of cannabis use fading, coupled with legalization, more individuals are using cannabis for their health and wellness needs – for relaxation, stress release, sleep improvement and chronic pain,” Holley wrote in an email. “With the passage of Issue 2, the number of individuals consuming marijuana in the legal market will steadily increase.”
Although Ohio would be legalizing marijuana, the substance is a Schedule 1 drugunder the United States Drug Enforcement Administration’s Controlled Substance Act.
“Cannabis – as is heroin and LSD – are defined as (Schedule 1) drugs with no accepted medical use and have a high potential for abuse. In addition, the processing, sale and possession of cannabis remain illegal (under federal law), even for personal medical purposes. Even if legalized, individuals and businesses can potentially face penalties under federal law,” Holley wrote in an email.
Executive Director of the Drug Enforcement and Policy Center at Ohio State Univerisity Douglas Berman said the opening of more dispensaries around Ohio will create more job opportunities, including lawyers, accountants and security officials.
Berman said having a legal market also creates a safer and more regulated product.
“There's been a robust illicit market for decades, and what legalization does is ensure the consistency and the safety of the product, so that you don't have to worry about cannabis laced with pesticides, having heavy metals or having all sorts of other contaminants in it,” Berman said.
However, legalization doesn’t entirely erase the illicit market, especially when it comes to homegrown plants, Berman said. People may see Ohio as a place to illegally grow marijuana and then transport it to other states.
Even if Issue 2 is passed, the Ohio legislature has the power to overturn or alter the law, Holley said.
“Business leaders in Ohio’s cannabis market have been working on ballot measures for years. If it does not pass in 2023, they will not stop advocating and working to legalize recreational marijuana for Ohioans, age 21 and older,” Holley wrote in an email.