Ohio voters officially approved a ballot to legalize recreational cannabis on Tuesday, Nov. 7. As 57 percent of voters supported the measure, defying Republican legislative leaders who remain opposed to it in the legislature, the passage of Issue 2 made Ohio the 24th state to legalize cannabis for adult use.
What exactly did voters approve in Ohio?
Starting December 2023, Ohio residents aged 21 years old and older will be allowed to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and up to 15 grams of extract in the state. Individuals will be allowed to grow up to 12 plants in a private residence where at least two adults reside. Purchases from licensed dispensaries will be allowed as well, although it will be some time before adult-use dispensaries are open.
A 10 percent tax will be imposed on purchases. Those funds are earmarked to be spent on social equity and job programs, municipalities with cannabis dispensaries, an addiction treatment fund, and administrative costs.
Under Issue 2, consuming cannabis in “public areas” would fall under the state’s “smoking ban,” and land someone with a minor misdemeanor. Furthermore:
- Property owners and “any public place” could decide for themselves whether to accommodate cannabis consumption.
- Employers do not have to permit or accommodate an employee’s use, possession, or distribution of cannabis.
- Someone who grows cannabis could give up to six plants to another adult, as long as no money is exchanged and the transfer is not advertised or promoted to the public.
- The state’s current DUI laws will apply to those driving a car, bike, boat, or airplane while under the influence of cannabis. Passengers are also prohibited from smoking or vaping in the vehicle.
What does cannabis legalization mean for Ohio?
The new law would take effect on Dec. 7, 2023, allowing Ohioans to consume, possess, and grow cannabis starting that day. Regulators are expected to begin issuing retail licenses by late 2024, so retail sales are still a ways away.
An analysis from Ohio State University assessed the potential economic impact of legalization on the state earlier this year. It estimated that Ohio could see up to $403.6 million in annual cannabis tax dollars by the fifth year of sales. A separate analysis estimates that the passage of Issue 2 may create 3,300 new jobs in the first year.
Will there be changes to Ohio’s cannabis legalization rules?
It’s important to note that as a citizen-initiated statute, the law is subject to change. Within hours of the issue’s passage, Ohio’s top elected leaders have already expressed their intent to make alterations. Some objectives voiced by Gov. Mike DeWine (R) include restrictions to prevent accidental ingestion, public use, driving while intoxicated, and advertising. There are also requests to revisit the tax structure and use the revenue for county jails or police training.
“From our perspective, we want to make sure that we are maintaining the intent of the voters who passed Issue 2, but also being very thoughtful in giving flexibility back to our local communities in regards to how they use the revenues,” House Minority Leader Allison Russo (D) told Dispatch. Senate President Matt Huffman (R) said he also wants to assess the language regarding THC limits on cannabis products sold in the state.
While questions remain as to what the final language will look like, Gov. DeWine claims none of the finalized language should come as a shock. “I don’t think there’s any surprises out there,” he told reporters.
Still, many advocates are encouraging lawmakers to enact the law as passed in the ballot referendum.
“This vote presents a tremendous opportunity for the state where legal adult-use sales are projected to exceed $1 billion annually,” Policy Director Rodney Holcombe said in a statement. “This move puts Ohio in league with 23 other states that have taken this significant stride forward. We have witnessed firsthand the positive impact of legalized cannabis, including job creation, tax revenue for vital government services and unique business opportunities for entrepreneurs. We urge Ohio officials to promptly enact the law, allowing their constituents to reap these benefits without delay.”
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