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Issue 2 passes to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio

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Updated Nov. 8, 2023, 6:03 A.M. ET

Ohioans have voted to legalize recreational marijuana, becoming the 24th state to legalize and regulate the growing, manufacturing, testing and sale of pot for any reason to people over 21.

But state legislative leaders are suggesting the law is likely to change.

Passage of the statute means Ohioans over 21 could have six plants per person and a dozen per residence. It will impose a 10% excise tax on marijuana sales, along with the 5.75% state sales tax and local sales taxes up to 2.25%.

The revenue has been estimated at $218 million to over $400 million a year. Two-thirds will be split evenly between a social equity and jobs program fund and communities that have dispensaries. A quarter will go to addiction treatment and 3% to administrative costs.

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol put Issue 2 before voters after first taking it to the legislature in January. When lawmakers didn't act, the group gathered signatures to put it on the November ballot.

The group has said Ohioans are already illegally buying marijuana from drug dealers or bringing it in from other states, referencing Michigan in particular in the only ad they bought. They said parts of the proposed law were modeled after the state’s medical marijuana program, which has been operating since 2019.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce and the Ohio Manufacturers Association have been among Issue 2’s most outspoken opponents, joined by the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, the Buckeye State Sheriffs Association and the Ohio Fraternal Order of Police. Children's hospitals were also opposed.

But despite the influential players in that anti-Issue 2 coalition, there was little organized opposition. There were no ads against Issue 2 and the campaign was primarily through media appearances and interviews.

Both sides had studies that they said supported their claims about the effect of legalized marijuana and safety on the road, in workplaces and with children. The law doesn't change existing legislation on impaired driving, and employers are still permitted to test for marijuana use or to require a drug-free workplace.

Opponents in the legislature are eyeing changes

Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima), an outspoken opponent of marijuana, said last month: "I will advocate for reviewing it and repealing things or changing things that are in it." And House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said he felt Issue 2 "started the discussion" about legal marijuana, and that the legislature "will be very busy after Nov. 7."

"In 2023, I can't believe that we're actually talking about elected officials not respecting the outcome of an election," Haren said. "I think every voter has a right to expect that our policymakers respect the will of the voters and the voice of voters who again tonight spoke decisively when they passed Issue 2 in a landslide.

Rick Carfagna with the Ohio Chamber of Commerce wants to see some changes to the law, to clarify the rights of retailers and property owners who want to prohibit marijuana in their stores and rental units, and employers who want drug-free workplaces. But he's not pushing for a repeal.

"The people have spoken. Recreational marijuana is legalized," Carfagna said. "But we want to make sure that it's done in the most responsible and and safe manner."