Ohio voted ‘yes’ on recreational ballot measure, which makes it the 24th state in the US, to go weed-legal. Will its governor get in the way?
Ohio becomes the 24th state
On November 7th, the US held yearly state elections. On the recreational cannabis front, Ohio was the only state to offer the public a voter ballot measure. It did so via Issue 2. The measure passed with 2,183,734 votes, or 56.97% of the population, making Ohio the 24th state to legalize. 1,649,339 people voted no, which accounted for 43.03%.
Issue 2 legalizes the sale of recreational cannabis, to be overseen by a Division of Cannabis Control. It allows adults (21 and up) to hold and use up to 2.5 ounces of flower, or 15 grams of concentrate. The law covers home cultivation as well, and affords an allowance of six plants individually, or 12 plants per household.
The measure stipulates a 10% tax (excise sin tax) on all recreational products. These taxes are strictly unnecessary, and meant for dangerous products; however, they’ve become a standard part of legal weed industries. According to the measure, these taxes are meant to establish a ‘cannabis social equity and jobs program’, to give monetary help and support to equity license applicants.
Ohio already has a decriminalization policy in effect from 1975. Under the law, up to 100 grams is treated as a minor misdemeanor, with a fine of $150. The charge goes up to a regular misdemeanor for 100-200 grams, the fine increases to $150, and up to 30 days in jail is added on. Those caught with 200-1,000 grams face a felony charge, with up to three years in prison. Beyond 40,000 grams, there’s a mandatory minimum of eight years in prison.
With the recent ballot measure, Ohio became the 24th state to legalize recreational cannabis. According to US census population estimates, this makes it so that 49.07% of the population live in a recreational state. This is so close, that other estimates likely put the number at over 50%. Beyond this, nearly the entire country lives in a state where there is either legal medical cannabis, or a decriminalization policy.
The road to victory
This was a hard won victory for Ohio. The initiative, led by activist group CTRMLA (The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol), faced major resistance from the Ohio government; which did about everything it could to stop the vote from happening. It was actually supposed to be in last year’s election, to give an idea of the battle that went on. The reason it wasn’t, is because the state refused to respond to the signatures collected by the organization.
The signatures triggered a special congressional session, which could have been used for the state to offer its own policy. Governments prefer their own legislation to ballot measures; because ballot measures often don’t allow for easy amending or redaction. They’re voted in directly by the people, and not constructed by legislators; so the government has less options, if it doesn’t like some part of it. Legislators don’t like having less control, so they often come up with competitive legislature from the government side.
But Ohio didn’t do that. It sat like a deer in headlights, waiting out the clock. And to a point (in the short term) it was successful at stopping it. The CTRMLA opened a case against the state to try to force the measure onto the ballot, but the settlement didn’t come in time for that to happen. It was settled in favor of CTRMLA, though, and the state could not ask for re-collection of signatures already handed in.
So the CTRMLA soldiered on, and collected even more signatures in 2023. This was met by the state saying the group was short 600-700 signatures during the summer, seemingly another attempt to roadblock the initiative. So the group went out and collected thousands more, bringing the total to way above the necessary amount. On August 16th, with no other way to slow it down by the government, the ballot was officially announced.
The government still pushed in its own way; trying to dissuade voters from giving the measure a yes vote, and playing down any positive polling that showed voters were likely to vote yes. The governor even held interviews where he said his constituents were confused over the bill. As if it’s the first one to come up in this country.
Is it smooth sailing from here?
When governments are highly opposed to something, they don’t tend to let it rest. South Dakota remains the best, and most insane, example of this. After residents of the state voted in a recreational measure in 2020, governor Kristi Noem actually conspired with local law enforcement to take it away. It could be said she conspired with the judicial system as well, as a judge appointed by her, then ruled in her favor.
She also tried vehemently to postpone the medical legalization, which was voted in at the same time. Luckily, she was not successful with the latter; but recent noise from fringe activists indicates she might be working through other people again, to get the law repealed. As of yet, this has not happened, and the system is up and running.
It sounds like Ohio’s Governor Mike DeWine, is being just as disrespectful of his people’s choice. While it is true that state legislatures can repeal a voter measure; its almost never seen. It creates a horrible PR move to directly go against the majority of voters; and these measures don’t pass without a majority of votes. This is likely why Noem pulled such shady moves, rather than attempting to repeal.
DeWine, likewise, is trying to stir up problems, probably hoping to hinder the new bill in some way. His method? To try to force edits, in order to keep the first part of the law from going into effect, which is set for December 7th. According to the Cincinnati Inquirer, via MJBizDaily, Dewine wants additions and clarifications related to advertising (instituting child protections), THC limits for drivers, and something said about smoke exposure for the public.
What is DeWine Trying to do?
He wants this done within 30 days, but this would stop the December 7th date for enaction. As of this point, according to the measure, criminal penalties for possession would be lifted at that time. Essentially, DeWine is trying very hard to keep this from happening.
CTRMLA spokesperson Tom Haren probably said it best to the Inquirer, when he said: “I can’t believe in 2023 we’re actually talking about elected officials not respecting the will of the voters and not respecting the outcome of an election. I think that every single voter in Ohio has a right to expect that elected officials will implement and respect the will of voters.”
Further to this, there isn’t a public smoking clause in the measure, yet DeWine acts like there is. DeWine gave an example of walking around other cities and smelling weed: “I had the experience a month or so ago being in some unnamed state, you walked around the city and there was a rare time when you were not smelling marijuana. The voters have said people have a right to smoke marijuana, that’s fine. But other people have the right not to smell it and not to have their kids and grandkids exposed to it.”
Of course, he failed to mention that the laws technically don’t allow for this…anywhere. People do it outside of laws. Holding things up for a clarification, that’s already a part of stated law, is a strange thing to do, since there’s nothing to change. If there was a social smoking, or public smoking clause, that he wanted to get rid of; that would be different. But there is no actual provision to change when it comes to this, so it really seems like he’s trying to stir up problems. It’s reminiscent of his antics before the vote took place.
It’s true that property owners can set their own rules for what happens on their properties; and this does relate to both public and private property. But it’s always like this, especially with private property; and it only accounts for individual locations. It won’t be schools, or offices, or playgrounds, or community centers. We know that.
If nothing else, he’s actually pointing to the public’s acceptance of the plant, and lack of fear to use it. But just to really put it in logical perspective; people smoke cigarettes all over the place, and you can smell cigarette smoke everywhere. All over Ohio. DeWine hasn’t done anything to outlaw them, to stop their sale, or to fundamentally get in the way of people smoking them. So, I guess he’s only concerned about kids having to smell one kind of smoke.
Luckily, there doesn’t seem to be a push to adhere to DeWine’s desires on this. As DeWine is unlikely to go for a repeal, since it would likely incur a loss of support from constituents; things should stay as scheduled. Even if DeWine does hold things up in the end, a repeal is still unlikely, and Ohio stands as the 24th state to legalize.
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