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Coalition to legalize recreational pot in Ohio expects update 'any day now'

Leaders of a coalition working to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio said they should soon get an update on where their effort stands.

In December, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol submitted what it thought would be enough signatures to advance their initiated statute, but they fell about 13,000 signatures short of the 132,887 needed to advance their statute. The group turned in another 29,918 signatures on January 13 to try to make up the difference.

“Right now we are just waiting on the local county boards of elections to validate at least 13,000 of the almost 30,000 signatures that we submitted on the 13th. So we expect to hear any day now,” coalition spokesperson Thomas Haren said on All Sides with Ann Fisher Tuesday.

If county boards of elections verify enough signatures, the issue would then go to state lawmakers, who would have four months to pass the statute. If they do not, the coalition could then gather another 132,887 signatures to put the issue on the November ballot.

If it appears on the ballot it would still be considered a statute, not a constitutional amendment. Haren said that’s important because it makes it much easier to change in the future if necessary.

“As the program develops, if we need to tinker around the edges obviously that’s much easier to do in statute as opposed to a constitutional amendment,” Haren said.

If approved by lawmakers or voters, Ohioans 21 and older could possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana, and could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. People could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum of 12 plants per household.

The measure gives current medical marijuana businesses in Ohio a head start. Regulators would need to begin issuing recreational licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of the issue going into effect. That's a much tighter deadline than the more than two years it took Ohio's medical marijuana program to get up and running.

Under the recreational program, buyers would pay a 10% sales tax, with tax revenue going to communities with dispensaries, a social equity and jobs fund to “redress past and present effects of discrimination and economic disadvantage,” substance abuse prevention efforts, and the new Division of Cannabis Control to support regulation.