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  • Emma Smith Marrone

Ohio Legalizes Recreational Marijuana

On November 7, Ohio voters approved Issue 2, the Marijuana Legalization Initiative, by 56.97%, making Ohio the 24th state to legalize recreational marijuana. Ohio’s successful legalization corresponds with the issue’s increasing prevalence in US politics. November 2022 elections saw marijuana legalization on the ballot in five states, with Minnesota most recently legalizing recreational marijuana in May. With Ohio’s legalization, over half of the US population now lives in a state where recreational marijuana is legal, though use and possession remain illegal under United States federal law. 

Ohio’s Issue 2 makes legal the “cultivation, processing, sale, purchase, possession, home grow and use of cannabis” for those 21 and older. Adults are allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana. In addition, the measure allows for the home growth of six marijuana plants per individual and 12 per household. Issue 2 further creates the Division of Cannabis Control within Ohio’s Department of Commerce, which will work  to “license, regulate, investigate and penalize adult use cannabis operators.” The Act further establishes a 10% tax on marijuana sales. Tax revenue will be distributed among four designated areas: a cannabis social equity and jobs program created by the Act, a substance abuse and addiction fund, communities that host dispensary facilities, and further regulatory and administrative costs. 

The purpose of Issue 2 is to minimize illegal cannabis sales to “provide for safer and regulated cannabis product” and allow “funding and social equity opportunities in the state.” The cannabis social equity and jobs program created under the measure seeks to address a portion of this purpose. Issue 2 recognizes that marijuana laws are disproportionately enforced in low-income communities. Communities with high incarceration rates due to drug laws face many negative consequences, especially barriers to employment. The cannabis social equity and jobs program will identify communities where unequal enforcement of drug laws has hindered employment and business establishment opportunities. Tax revenue from Ohio marijuana sales will fund individuals disproportionately impacted by marijuana laws, particularly by allowing legitimate employment in cannabis business operations. 

Issue 2 is set to take effect on December 7, though Ohio law allows legislators to amend the citizen-enacted statute until then. The path to legalization in Ohio dates back to 1975 when the possession of 100 grams or less of marijuana was decriminalized. In 2015, a measure to legalize recreational marijuana was not approved by Ohio voters, though in 2016, the Ohio House passed Bill 523, which legalized the purchase and use of medical marijuana. With an open possibility of Issue 2 being amended before December 7, challenges to the law persist in Ohio. Governor Mike DeWine (OH-R) has called for changes to Issue 2, stating, “there’s a lot of holes in what was passed.” The governor voiced a desire for the inclusion of protections for children against cannabis advertising and cannabis edibles. He also shared concerns about the potential for an increase in driving under the influence and the effect of marijuana smoke exposure. 

Ohio’s legislature is majority Republican, and many policymakers have expressed support for DeWine’s call for revision of Issue 2. The campaign for Issue 2 was led by an organization called Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which stated that “marijuana legalization is an issue whose time has come in Ohio.” Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol raised 5.97 million dollars for the campaign. Tom Haren, a spokesperson for Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, stated legislators should “implement and respect the will of voters” in response to policymakers like DeWine, who have advocated for revisions of Issue 2. In opposition, groups like Protect Ohio Workers and Families have argued that “recreational marijuana is meant to make a few investors rich, not to make Ohio better.” Protect Ohio Workers and Families raised $442,900 for their campaign, a marginal amount compared to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. 

Among the American public, surveys have shown rising support for legalization, with 59% reporting marijuana should be legal for both medical and recreational use. There is a partisan bend to this support, as Democrats are more likely to be in favor of legalization than Republicans. At the federal level, President Biden pardoned thousands of individuals with marijuana-related offenses in 2022. A push for a federal reclassification of marijuana’s drug status could set the United States on the same path as Ohio with regard to equitable enforcement of drug laws. With nearly half of the states in the Union now allowing the legal use of recreational marijuana, it seems likely that Ohio will not be the last state to legalize it — even as some politicians still push back against the growing trend.  

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