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Supporters turn in signatures for a marijuana legalization law on the Ohio ballot this fall

Supporters of a proposed law to regulate marijuana like alcohol in Ohio unload a U-Haul truck with hundreds of boxes of petitions to put the statute before voters in November.
Karen Kasler
Statehouse News Bureau
Supporters of a proposed law to regulate marijuana like alcohol in Ohio unload a U-Haul truck with hundreds of boxes of petitions to put the statute before voters in November.

The Ohio secretary of state's office was busy Wednesday as petitions were filed to put a constitutional amendment on abortion rights before voters in November. But a different group also filed their petitions for a law that would allow for marijuana to be legalized and regulated like alcohol to be on that same ballot.

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol submitted 222,198 signatures in 254 boxes in a U-Haul backed up to the office's loading dock. They would need 124,046 valid signatures for their proposed law to be considered by voters.

This is not a constitutional amendment, but an initiated statute. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol had presented its proposed law to state lawmakers earlier this year, who had 90 days to accept it or take no action. When the statute didn't move, the group gathered more signatures to put it onto the ballot for voters to consider.

The abortion rights issue is potentially on the November ballot as well. But the coalition's Tom Haren said that wasn't part of his organization's calculations in putting it before voters this year.

"I don't know that an issue like regulation of marijuana is turnout driven in the same way that it may have been 10 years ago," Haren said. "We expect that our measure will pass with a wide margin of victory, irrespective of whether any of the reproductive rights amendments are on the ballot."

Some state lawmakers have been vocal in their opposition to marijuana legalization. But Haren said the regulations in the proposal to keep pot away from kids, the millions of dollars that would come from the 10% tax on it, and the investments in social equity in the law will prevent legislators from repealing it.

"We expect to pass with such a wide margin of victory in November that it will be a political mandate from Ohio voters, which, in addition to the merits, will make it very politically unfeasible to take any action to repeal it after we pass," Haren said.

And, Haren said the criticism that legalizing marijuana will result in a lot more people using it hasn't happened elsewhere.

"The expectation is 100% that regulated marijuana products in Ohio will be competitive with the illicit market, which is a dynamic that you've seen obviously in other states," Haren said. "It's harder in a state like California — they overtaxed it, they overregulated it. We don't do that under the proposal that we're submitting."

The Center for Christian Virtue, the conservative Christian group that's been influential in Ohio politics, issued a statement after the petitions were filed. It reads in part: "Google 'legalized marijuana' in states like California, Oregon, Michigan, and Colorado to see how devastating legalizing recreational marijuana is. Out of control black markets, traffic fatalities, workplace safety issues, and increased incidents of psychosis and suicides among children can all be expected unless responsible Ohioans hold the line in opposing the commercialization of marijuana in our state."

But Haren said those "tired talking points" have been addressed and debunked in studies in other states.

"People can talk about the same old 'reefer madness' talking points if they want to," Haren said. "But the reality is that the boogeymen haven't shown up in any of the 23 states that have already come before us."

Haren said he's not sure how much the campaign to pass the issue will have to spend if it makes the ballot, but said they plan targeted voter outreach, but that most voters understand that the proposal is about.

The secretary of state's office has until July 20 to validate the signatures and let the coalition know if they have reached the necessary number. If not, they have 10 days to gather more.

Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.