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US Sen. Sherrod Brown undecided on recreational marijuana ballot issue

Sherrod Brown
Tom Williams
Pool via AP
Chairman Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, questions Treasury Secretary Janet Yellen as she testifies before the Senate Banking, Housing, and Urban Affairs Committee hearing, Tuesday, May 10, 2022, on Capitol Hill in Washington.

Ohio's most prominent statewide elected Democrat says he is undecided on a looming vote on whether or not to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio this November.

U.S. Senator Sherrod Brown spoke to reporters Wednesday about efforts he's making to hold Norfolk Southern Railway accountable for the train derailment and chemical spill when he was asked about his stance on the upcoming election issue.

Brown said he honestly doesn't know how he will vote yet.

"I've been focused on trying to stop the extremists in the House from a government shutdown, worked on the FEND Off Fentanyl and RECOUP Act and this rail bill. But I will, in the next couple, three weeks, really sit down and read it and figure out what to do," Brown said.

Brown, since at least 2015 when a similar constitutional amendment was being pushed by supporters, has expressed wariness and concern with supporting legal recreational marijuana.

This initiated statute, called Issue 2 on the ballot, would legalize and regulate recreational marijuana for Ohioans over 21, who would be permitted to possess 2.5 ounces of pot and grow plants at home. It would also impose a 10% tax to go to addiction treatment, administrative costs and social justice programs.

Supporting legal marijuana is an increasingly popular position in Brown's party. Brown faces a tough re-election battle in 2024.

Brown said many groups he respects, like children's hospitals and law enforcement, oppose Issue 2, but there are a lot of other groups he's heard from that believe Issue 2 makes sense.

As Brown considers how he will vote, the U.S. Senate Banking Committee that he chairs is considering a bill called the SAFER Banking Act that he said would allow banks in states where marijuana is legal to accept money made by businesses in the banks. Brown said this is currently illegal under federal law, despite many states legalizing recreational marijuana.

Brown said this causes too much cash to be out in the community, which is an issue for public safety and crime.

"Whether you agree with marijuana legalization or not, and many of the people who support this bill don't. This new law is necessary to protect the public," Brown said.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce released a statement Wednesday saying a majority of its board of directors voted in favor of opposing Issue 2.

"At a time when Ohio companies are struggling to fill open positions, the legalization of recreational marijuana would exacerbate our current workforce shortages. The Ohio Chamber stands ready to work with stakeholders and legislators to ensure the business community’s voice is heard on this issue," the statement said in part.

WOSU reached out to Brown's Republican counterpart U.S. Senator J.D. Vance to ask his stance on Issue 2, but have not yet received a response.

George Shillcock is a reporter for 89.7 NPR News. He joined the WOSU newsroom in April 2023 following three years as a reporter in Iowa with the USA Today Network.