Petition Forces Ohio Lawmakers into Action on Cannabis Legalization

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Ohio’s secretary of state announced last week that cannabis activists had collected enough signatures to force lawmakers to consider a proposal to legalize recreational cannabis. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol collected more than 136,000 verified signatures from registered voters, according to the office of Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose. The total is almost 4,000 more signatures than the number needed to send the legalization proposal for action by the state legislature.

The proposal now heads to Ohio lawmakers. They will have four months to adopt the measure as state law or pass an amended version. If the state Senate and House of Representatives fail to do so, the campaign would have the chance to collect another 132,887 signatures to place the measure on the ballot for this year’s general election.

“We are ready and eager to work with Ohio legislators over the next four months to legalize the adult use of marijuana in Ohio,” Campaign Spokesman Tom Haren said in a statement. “We are also fully prepared to collect additional signatures and take this issue directly to voters on November 8, 2022, if legislators fail to act.”

Ohio Secretary of State Validates Signatures

In December, the campaign submitted petitions with more than 200,000 signatures. This was significantly more than the 132,887 necessary to send the proposal to lawmakers. But after the secretary of state’s office announced earlier this month that only 119,985 of the signatures had been verified as registered voters, activists submitted nearly 30,000 additional signatures to state officials.

In a letter sent by LaRose’s office on Friday, the secretary of state wrote that with the additional submissions activists had collected a sufficient number of signatures in enough counties to send the petition to the legislature.

“The initial part-petitions contained 119,825 valid signatures on behalf of the proposed statewide initiative of the total signatures submitted, signatures from 51 counties were submitted that met or exceeded 1.5 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor in the respective counties at the last gubernatorial election,” Larose wrote in a letter posted online by Northeast Ohio Media Group.

“The additional part-petitions contained 16,904 valid signatures on behalf of the proposed statewide initiative,” he continued. “I hereby certify that the part-petitions contained a total of 136,729 valid signatures submitted on behalf of the proposed statewide initiative petition.”

The proposal from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alchohol would allow adults 21 and older in Ohio to legally possess and purchase up to 2.5 of cannabis and up to 15 grams of cannabis concentrates. Adults would also be permitted to cultivate up to six cannabis plants at home, with a maximum of 12 plants per household.

The measure would also set a 10 percent tax on cannabis products. Revenue raised by cannabis taxes would be dedicated to administering the program and to municipalities with marijuana dispensaries. Taxes would also fund substance abuse programs and a social equity and jobs program.

Cannabis Legalization a Long Shot in GOP-led Legislature

However, the legalization proposal is unlikely to gain approval from Ohio’s GOP-controlled state legislature. And even if lawmakers pass the measure, it would likely be vetoed when it reached the desk of Republican Gov. Mike DeWine, who voiced opposition to legalizing recreational cannabis in Ohio earlier this month.

“No, I think that’s a mistake,” DeWine said. “I think you change the culture and you send a signal to kids… If it’s legal, every kid, the message is it’s okay.”

But the campaign believes that lawmakers may eventually approve the measure.

“We are expecting a vigorous debate but we expect this to pass because it is popular among Democrats, Independents and Republicans,” Haren told local media.

Last month, two Republican lawmakers introduced a bill to legalize recreational cannabis in Ohio. Separately, the legislature is considering a bill that would expand the state’s medical cannabis program.

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