A slim majority of Ohio voters would support marijuana legalization at the ballot, according to a new poll that comes as the legislature is being forced to consider the reform this session following an activist-led signature gathering drive.
The survey from Emerson College found that 50.4 percent of Ohio voters are in favor of enacting adult-use legalization, compared to 39.7 percent who remain opposed and ten percent who are undecided.
The partisan demographic breakdown is largely consist with past polling on the issue in states across the country. Democrats were most likely to favor legalization (66.2 percent), followed by independents (50 percent) and Republicans (36.3 percent).
The poll—which involved interview with 410 likely voters in Ohio from February 25-26, with a margin of error of +/- 4.8 percentage points—comes about a month after activists in the state submitted enough signatures for a measure to force the legislature to take up the issue.
“Should the legalization of recreational marijuana be on the ballot in November 2022, it has a chance of passing, as 50 percent of Ohio voters support the measure,” Spencer Kimball, executive director of Emerson College Polling, said in a press release.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CTRMLA) submitted a final round of signatures for the measure last month. And the petitions’ formal validation with the state triggers the legislative review of legalization, but it does not require lawmakers to enact the reform.
Lawmakers now have less than four months to consider the campaign’s cannabis reform proposal. Lawmakers can adopt the measure, reject it or pass an amended version. If they do not pass the measure, organizers can then collect an additional 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters to place the issue on the ballot in November.
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“This poll confirms what we’ve been saying all along,” CTRMLA spokesman Tom Haren told Marijuana Moment. “Legalizing marijuana for adults is popular in Ohio and the voters will support our effort at the ballot in November if the General Assembly fails to act.”
Already, Senate President Matt Huffman (R) has drawn a line in the sand, saying he’s “not going to bring [legalization] to the Senate floor” and, “if that means people want to go put it on the ballot, have at it.”
House Majority Leader Bill Seitz (R) has similarly expressed doubts about the reform’s prospects of passage in his chamber. And adding further complications is the possible veto treat from anti-legalization Gov. Mike DeWine (R).
The measure that lawmakers will be required to consider would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).
A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”
The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.
The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.
Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.
Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”
With respect to social equity, some advocate are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, it does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements.
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 campaign to place another measure on the 2020 ballot due to the coronavirus pandemic.
Aside from the new voter initiative, state lawmakers from both parties are separately working to advance marijuana reform.
A legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature last year would legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D).
A pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers similarly filed a bill to legalize marijuana in the state in December. Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure.
There are also additional local reform efforts underway in Ohio for 2022.
After voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last November’s election—which builds on a slew of previous local reforms in the state—campaigns are now looking to enact decriminalization in Marietta, Rushville, Rutland, Shawnee, McArthur and Laurelville.
Ohio marijuana activists already successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials. That measure is now expected to go before voters this November.