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Recreational marijuana is now legal in Ohio, but legislature could still modify the details

A sign supporting a yes vote on a law legalizing marijuana in Ohio sits on the south side of Columbus.
Daniel Konik
/
Statehouse News Bureau
A sign supporting a yes vote on a law legalizing marijuana in Ohio sits on the south side of Columbus.

Possession, use and home growth of recreational marijuana is legal in the Buckeye state as of midnight Thursday, but legislators can still and likely will make modifications to the law now in effect.

On Wednesday night—about six hours before Issue 2 became law as is—a bill to change adult-use cannabis laws cleared the Ohio Senate 28-2. Sen. Niraj Antani (R-Miamisburg) and Sen. Catherine Igram (D-Cincinnati) voted against it.

Senate efforts some overhaul of Issue 2 in eleventh hour

House Bill 86, which was a bill on liquor laws, is a pared back version of a proposal introduced by Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napolean) on Monday. The bill still allows for home grow, but limits it, creates a THC content ceiling on extracts, and retools the taxes involved, among other changes. Some of those include:

  • Further limiting the potency of concentrate and extract products by changing the THC content maximum to 50%, down from 90% under Issue 2
  • Reducing home grow from six plants per person or 12 per household under Issue 2 to only six plants per household
  • A ban on public smoking
  • Packaging and advertising regulations, such as barring edibles from being like a "realistic or fictional human, animal or fruit"
  • Enabling localities to regulate where dispensaries do business or outright ban dispensaries in their jurisdiction
  • Adding expungement possibilities for prior possession convictions that would no longer be illegal under Issue 2
  • Increasing the sales tax on customers from 10%, under Issue 2, to 15%. Counties could tack on additional taxes
  • Changing where that tax revenue goes

The full legislative text, which does not include three amendments made on the Senate floor Wednesday evening, is available online. Those amendments clarified language on cannabis cartridges, license transfer and expungement intentions.

But one of the biggest modifications was a late Wednesday afternoon addition that would enable licensed medical marijuana dispensaries to begin selling products to non-medical customers within 90 days of the governor’s signature. Under Issue 2, even established medical marijuana dispensaries are required to wait for added recreational licensure, which wouldn’t come until mid-2024 at the earliest.

Related: Ohio State University will continue to prohibit marijuana use on campus following legalization

McColley said that eases a months-long gulf, where use of cannabis would be legal, but recreational sale would not be.

“That's going to give Ohioans who voted for this quicker access to safe, regulated products, and it's also going to allow for us to start selling products in a way that won't allow the black market to flourish,” he said.

Senators also also added in a process for immediate expungement of marijuana possession convictions for those who request them. Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D-Lakewood) said the expungement process was part of the reason she voted for Issue 2, even though that was not part of the initiated statute.

“I knew that we would have to work on expungement and that there are people that were wrongly imprisoned [for] very small amount possession of marijuana who now will be able to expunge their records. People will not get arrested for it," Antonio said. "So for me, that was a really important part of actually even legalizing it to begin with.”

Some lawmakers said on the Senate floor the bill wasn’t perfect in their eyes but made progress on the issue.

“We listened to the voters, and this bill is so much better,” Sen. Bill DeMora (D-Columbus) said of the newest version.

HB 86 now heads to the Ohio House, where the next session is not scheduled until early next week.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine called an early evening press conference to urge the House to pass those Senate changes. DeWine said he didn’t like all of them, especially the home grow provision, but urged the House to pass the quickly.

“What we don't want is a situation where the black market grows and we don't want a situation really where people don't know what the rules are. And we just need to get this done," DeWine said.

But DeWine didn’t call for the House to reconvene to pass the bill before Issue 2 took effect, since there was no emergency clause attached to allow it to become law immediately. But the Senate's leader was surprised the House ended session Wednesday without waiting to consider the changes.

“The governor made it clear that we wanted to send this over to them, and I kind of thought we were going to try to get this resolved (tonight),” Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) told reporters after the floor vote. “I’m surprised they adjourned.”

Campaign that put marijuana on the ballot opposes changes

Tom Haren, a spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which got the issue on the November ballot, lambasted the senate’s bill.

Haren said lawmakers had the language in Issue 2 for two years and failed to take action on it, so Ohio voters ultimately decided to pass it by a 14-point margin. Now, he said lawmakers are rushing through legislation that goes against the will of the voters.

“The thing that is maybe most surprising is that members of the Ohio Senate just woke up today and realized that there’s an illicit market for marijuana products,” Haren said in an interview. “We have had the opportunity to learn from 23 other states over the course of 10 years, and these best practices were baked into Issue 2's language. It was a real thoughtful process”

Lawmakers have not given Ohioans enough time to weigh in on the plan, which he said guts core parts of Issue 2—such as dedicated tax revenue for a social equity and jobs program. The Senate bill puts most of the marijuana revenue toward jail construction grants and law enforcement training. There’s also funding for substance abuse treatment, the 988 suicide prevention hotline, a fund for the marijuana convictions expungement program, local drug task forces and safe driving programs.

When asked whether the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol might come back in the future with a constitutional amendment to make changes to what went through the Senate on Wednesday, Haren said, “we’ll see.”

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at sdonaldson@statehousenews.org.
Contact Karen at 614-578-6375 or at kkasler@statehousenews.org.
Contact Jo Ingles at jingles@statehousenews.org.