A group of cannabis advocates in Ohio has launched efforts to “regulate marijuana like alcohol” in the Buckeye State after the COVID-19 pandemic stalled the campaign’s push to place adult-use legalization on the state’s 2020 ballot.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol submitted summary language of an initiated statute to legalize and regulate adult-use cannabis to the Ohio Attorney General’s Office last week, and will find out whether the language is approved by Aug. 5.
The proposed law would legalize and regulate adult-use cannabis cultivation, manufacturing, testing and sales to adults 21 and older, as well as allow adults to grow six plants at home for personal use, with a maximum of 12 plants per household.
The proposal would levy a 10% tax on adult-use cannabis sales, on top of regular state and local sales taxes. The tax revenue generated would be allocated to very specific areas, including:
- 36% for a Social Equity and Jobs Fund to create a program to support social equity applicants in the adult-use business licensing process;
- 36% for a Host Community Cannabis Fund, to support communities that host adult-use dispensaries;
- 25% for a Substance Abuse and Addiction Fund, to support substance abuse education and treatment; and
- 3% for a Division of Cannabis Control, which would oversee the adult-use cannabis industry.
"It replaces prohibition with a sensible framework for regulation and taxation,” Tom Haren, a spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, told Cannabis Business Times and Cannabis Dispensary, adding that the proposed law will generate an estimated $400 million in new tax revenue. “It utilizes the existing medical marijuana infrastructure to provide a quick path to legal sales to adults that will provide an alternative for Ohio consumers to the unregulated market or spending their money out of state.”
The proposal allows Ohio’s existing medical cannabis operators to expand their cultivation footprint and open additional dispensaries to serve the adult-use market. Level I cultivators would receive three adult-use dispensary licenses, Level II cultivators would receive one adult-use dispensary license, and each medical cannabis dispensary that is not vertically integrated with cultivation operations would also receive one adult-use retail license.
“We wanted to make sure that this was a program that wouldn’t take three or four years to get up and running, so this way we can ensure that we can provide an alternative to the unregulated market as quickly as possible,” Haren said.
The proposed law also authorizes new licenses, including 40 Level III cultivation licenses and 50 retail licenses, with a preference to social equity applicants.
“We wanted to make sure that we were really focused on the restorative justice concept and righting the wrongs of the drug war, while at the same time ensuring that we have inclusion and participation within the industry itself,” Haren said.
The proposal also aims to bolster social equity in Ohio’s adult-use cannabis industry through the creation of a Social Equity and Jobs Program.
Under the proposal, the Ohio Department of Development would establish criteria and certify applicants for participation in the Social Equity and Jobs Program. Possible criteria could include residing in a low-income community or having past cannabis-related offenses, Haren said.
“Also, you can qualify based on social disadvantage,” he added. “A business owner or person can demonstrate membership in a racial minority group or show disadvantage due to color, ethnic origin, gender [or] physical disability.”
The Social Equity and Jobs Program would provide financial assistance, such as loans and grants, as well as technical assistance to applicants certified by the Department of Development.
“It would encourage diversity hiring practices within the cannabis industry, including plans of action to inform and educate minorities, women, veterans [and] disabled people,” Haren said. “But it would also study and fund judicial and criminal justice reform efforts, like bail, parole, and sentencing reform; sealing and expungement of records; and legal aid in community policing. It would study and propose policy reforms to address the social and economic impacts of the enforcement of marijuana laws. Perhaps most importantly, it would fund direct investment in disproportionately impacted communities to advance entrepreneurism, education, legal aid, youth development, violence prevention and the arts.”
If Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost approves the summary language of the initiated statute, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will need to collect more than 130,000 signatures to send the proposed legislation to the Ohio General Assembly, which would then have four months to consider the bill.
If lawmakers ultimately decide not to pass the proposed legislation, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol can collect an additional 130,000 signatures to place its proposed law before voters on the November 2022 ballot.
However, Haren is optimistic about the proposal’s chances in the Ohio Legislature .
“We’re laser focused on the General Assembly,” he said. “We think this is an issue that’s popular in Ohio. Any recent poll will tell you that. We think this is an issue that’s popular across political lines, geographic lines [and] social economic lines, and we think it’s something that the Legislature will recognize. We think this is good policy. … Our expectation is we’re going to have a vigorous debate in the General Assembly, but ultimately, we’re optimistic that it will be passed and signed into law.”
The General Assembly is already considering separate adult-use legislation filed July 30 by Reps. Casey Weinstein and Terrence Upchurch, and Haren said this shows that it’s the right time to consider cannabis policy reform in Ohio.
“It shows that this is an issue that has the attention of the Legislature, and so we think it really sets the stage very well for consideration of our proposal,” he said.