An activist-led petition for marijuana legalization in Ohio has been formally resubmitted to the legislature by the Ohio Secretary of State, giving legislators four months to evaluate the change. Advocates may then gather more signatures to get the issue on the November ballot if legislators do not take action.
In a letter to legislative leaders, Secretary of State Frank LaRose stated that he had fulfilled his duty to introduce the reform proposal to the legislature on the first day of the new session and to begin the four-month time frame for lawmakers to consider it.
The 34-page bill would impose a 10 percent tax on the sale of all cannabis products and legalize the possession, purchase, and sale of marijuana by Ohio residents aged 21 and older.
The National Conference of State Legislatures reports that if passed, Ohio would join 21 other states in legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes.
According to the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA), marijuana is a mind-altering (psychoactive) drug, produced by the Cannabis sativa plant.
LaRose’s reintroduction of the proposal adhered to an agreement reached in May between the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) who attempted to put the legalization initiative on the November 2022 ballot. The group allegedly turned in enough signatures to begin the legislative review, however, lawmakers disputed if their initial submission time fell within the 10-day deadline related to ballot initiatives outlined by the Ohio Constitution.
With regard to the 2022 election, CTRMLA’s lawsuit to force ballot placement proved unsuccessful. The state agreed to a settlement that meant they would not need to gather additional initial signatures and that LaRose would immediately resubmit the initiative to the legislature at the beginning of the 2023 session.
“As stipulated in the Settlement Order, today shall be considered the date on which the General Assembly’s four-month period to consider the proposed law begins, as provided for in Article II, Section 1b of the Ohio Constitution, and no parties shall take any direct or indirect action in contravention of this re-transmission,” LaRose wrote.
Last year, when the measure was brought before the legislature, they chose not to take action. It is unknown if they will take action during this session. If lawmakers choose to remain inactive after the four-month deadline has ended CTRMLA will have to collect an additional 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters to ensure ballot placement.
According to CTRMLA spokesperson Tom Haren, it is ” pleased that our proposal was re-transmitted to the Ohio General Assembly and that the Secretary of State clarified that the General Assembly’s four-month clock to consider our proposal has begun.”
However, it is unlikely that legalization will pass muster with the General Assembly. Republican officials have stated that they oppose the drug’s recreational use and are instead focusing on improving Ohio’s medical marijuana program. Two more cannabis legalization initiatives introduced last year have stalled in the Statehouse.
Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) has previously said that he thinks a marijuana ballot question “would fail as bad as the last one,” citing the 2015 measure that approximately 65 percent of the electorate opposed.
According to The Recovery Center, a study released in October 2012 found that individuals treated for addiction to marijuana had a higher mortality rate than those with diagnoses related to cocaine or alcohol but lower than those with methamphetamine or opioid-related disorders.
The Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) states that studies link marijuana use to depression, anxiety, suicide planning, and psychotic episodes. They do not know, however, if marijuana use is the cause of these conditions.
The Republican Study Committee (RSC), a 156-member GOP House Caucus, unveiled the Family Policy Agenda in September of last year, which includes a “danger of drugs” section entirely about cannabis legalization and how it leads to violent crime and suicide.
“Congress should not legalize marijuana, while also taking steps to constrain this new industry’s ability to harm children. At the very least, Congress should direct the CDC to gather data and conduct studies on the health impacts of THC use during childhood and early adolescence with a special focus on deaths by suicide and those involved in violent crime to provide Congress and the public with further information about these dangers,” the Family Policy Agenda reads.
In 2015, Ohio voters defeated an initiated constitutional amendment that would have legalized the limited sale and use of marijuana and created 10 facilities with exclusive commercial rights to grow marijuana. The vote margin was 63.65 percent to 36.35 percent. ResponsibleOhio PAC sponsored the initiative.
The conservative Center for Christian Virtue says they will fight efforts to legalize cannabis in Ohio. Its leader, Aaron Baer, says the group opposed the failed 2015 attempt to legalize pot and will fight again.
“The marijuana industry is not going to be able to fool another state, is not going to be able to fool Ohioans with their lies and their empty promises of what marijuana will do for our state. The tax revenue is not true. The harmless effect of it is not true. The reality, it brings devastation,” Baer said.
“Given the problems caused by other substances, such as driving under the influence, “I think it’s ridiculous to add an additional problem,” DeWine said.
In November, five Ohio cities approved local marijuana decriminalization ballot initiatives during the midterm election.
Marijuana and THC remain illegal at the federal level, even though many states have legalized their use.
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