Ohio lawmakers might not be prepared to legalize marijuana this session, but activists aren’t giving up the push, with efforts underway to put reform on the statewide ballot and local campaigns reporting new progress in the municipal-level decriminalization movement.
In recent days, advocates say that counties have recently certified ballot measures to put cannabis reform before voters in Laurelville and Shawnee.
And voters in Kent—where activists already successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before voters after clearing up a verification error on the part of county officials last year—will also decide on reform this year.
Several other jurisdictions—including Ashville, Canton, Chippewa Lake, Gloria Glens Park, Harbor View, Helena, Lodi, McArthur, New Boston, Otway, Portsmouth, Rarden, Rushville, Rutland, South Webster, Sugar Grove and West Salem—are also actively being targeted by activists with NORML and Sensible Movement Coalition (SMC) for reform measures this year.
“We will continue to aggressively pursue the decriminalization of marijuana in our state,” Don Keeney, executive director of NORML Appalachia of Ohio, told Marijuana Moment.
“Our work with the ballot initiative proves without a doubt that ordinary citizens can do extraordinary things,” he said. “This form of direct democracy gives us personal rights and personal freedoms that you might not know you have.”
Chad Thompson of SMC told Marijuana Moment that “local decriminalization really continues to be an important effort here in Ohio.”
“Obviously, we would love to have a statewide regulatory framework or some sort of legalization here in Ohio, but that’s looking a little bleak at the moment,” he said. “Right now, all we really have to protect individual consumers is local decrim here in Ohio, so it continues to be very important.”
These latest local developments come after voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election, building on a slew of previous local reforms in the state.
Prior to that election, more than 20 jurisdictions across the state had already adopted local statues effectively decriminalizing possession—some of which have been passed by voter initiatives while others were adopted by city councils in major cities like Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.
At the state level, a pair of Ohio Democratic lawmakers recently filed a bill to legalize marijuana that directly mirrors a proposed initiative that activists are pursuing. If the legislature fails to act by next month, advocates can collect additional signatures to put the measure directly before voters on the November ballot.
Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D) are sponsoring the legislation, which is virtually identical to a citizen initiative from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA). The lawmakers announced the plan on the unofficial cannabis holiday 4/20.
Activists turned in about 133,000 initial signatures for their ballot measure in January, starting a process whereby lawmakers were given four months to act on the proposal. With that window closing—and resistance from GOP leadership—the prospects for legislative reform advancing this session seem slim.
Further complicating the possibility of statewide reform this year is the threat of a legal challenge based on the timing of the signature submissions. Lawmakers and state officials have raised questions about the validity of the campaign’s initiative on procedural grounds, prompting activists to file a lawsuit over the issue last week.
Weinstein and Upchurch filed a separate legalization bill—the first in state history—last summer. But that measure has not advanced. Meanwhile, a GOP legislator who’s sponsoring a different bill to tax and regulate cannabis recently tempered expectations about the chances for legislative reform, signaling that the issue will likely have to be decided by voters.
Ohio voters rejected a 2015 legalization initiative that faced criticism from many reform advocates because of an oligopolistic model that would’ve granted exclusive control over cannabis production to the very funders who paid to put the measure on the ballot.
Activists suspended a subsequent campaign to place a legalization measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.
A recent poll found that a slim majority of Ohio voters would support marijuana legalization at the ballot.
If Ohio does move to legalize marijuana sales, new research from Ohio State University indicates that the state stands to generate up to $375 million annually in cannabis tax revenue.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.