Marijuana legalization could be on Ohio ballot in 2020

Published: Feb. 24, 2020 at 6:39 PM EST
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CINCINNATI (CINCINNATI ENQUIRER) - Ohio medical marijuana growers are among a new coalition working to legalize recreational sales and use through a statewide ballot measure in November.

The proposed constitutional amendment would allow anyone 21 and older to buy, consume and possess up to 1 ounce of marijuana and grow up to six marijuana plants, according to photo of a petition page obtained by our media partners at The Cincinnati Enquirer.

Ohio's existing medical marijuana businesses would have first dibs on the recreational market beginning in July 2021. State regulators could decide to issue additional licenses.

Working with supporters are Tom Haren, a Northeast Ohio attorney who has represented several Ohio marijuana businesses, and Mike Hartley, a Columbus-based Republican consultant.

Hartley referred comment to Haren. Haren declined to answer questions about who is backing the effort and how it would be funded.

“We will have more to share when we file petitions with the attorney general’s office this week,” Haren said.

Not all Ohio businesses are backing the measure. The Ohio Medical Cannabis Cultivators Association, which represents 15 Ohio companies, does not support the plan.

"OMCIA is entirely focused on bettering the medical program for patients and we are not at the time supporting an adult use initiative," Associate Director Thomas Rosenberger told The Enquirer.

Eventually, supporters would need to collect 442,958 signatures from registered voters before July 1 to qualify for the November ballot.

Running a ballot issue in Ohio is expensive. Recent efforts have spent more than $3 million to hire professional signature gathering firms. Marijuana Policy Project, which has spearheaded several successful legalization campaigns, told Politico last month that an Ohio campaign would cost four to six times more than other states. The organization is instead working on legalization campaigns in other states.

Eleven states allow adult marijuana use; legalization could be on the ballot in as many as four other states this year. An industry-backed measure in Florida put on hold its 2020 effort last month after spending $8.6 million in the petition stage.

Ohioans overwhelmingly rejected a 2015 recreational legalization measure that would have limited commercial cultivation to 10 sites owned by backers of the amendment.

Months later, national lobbying group Marijuana Policy Project announced it would push a medical marijuana amendment here. Ohio lawmakers moved quickly to head off the amendment with a new law setting up a restrictive medical marijuana program.

Medical marijuana sales began under that law in January 2019. Dispensaries sold $60.6 million in the first year, lagging similar programs in other states.

Michigan and Illinois have since allowed sales to adults over age 21. Illinois stores sold nearly $40 million of marijuana in January, the first month of adult sales.

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