Democratic lawmakers introduce bill to legalize marijuana in Ohio
For the first time, Ohio lawmakers will have a bill before them to legalize recreational marijuana cultivation and sales.
Democratic state Reps. Casey Weinstein of Hudson and Terrence Upchurch of Cleveland have drafted a bill to legalize cultivation – personal and commercial – and regulate sales, as well as allow people previously convicted of low-level marijuana crimes to have their records sealed.
"We’re seeing there are dramatic economic benefits, there are medical benefits and there’s a strong criminal justice avenue here so we can focus law enforcement on violent crime," Weinstein said in an interview.
The pair is seeking cosponsors on a comprehensive bill, the first proposed in Ohio to set up a regulated market for selling marijuana.
The legislation faces a steep climb in a GOP-dominated Legislature that five years ago barely legalized a highly-regulated medical marijuana program.
The 2016 medical marijuana law was passed quickly to head off a ballot measure that would have amended the state constitution. Weinstein doesn’t want to get to that point on broader legalization, and hopes some Republicans will agree.
“Ohio is at the point where we’re going to be behind if we don’t act now,” he said. “I hope this provides the spark that we need to elevate the conversation and get this legislation moving.”
What the bill would do
Under the bill, adults age 21 and older could buy and possess up to 5 ounces of marijuana at a time and grow up to 12 mature plants for personal use, Weinstein said. Cities and villages could limit the type or number of marijuana businesses allowed within their borders.
The proposal is modeled after Michigan's marijuana market, Weinstein said. The bill would keep Ohio's medical marijuana program, approved in 2016 and launched in 2019, intact. Medical marijuana cultivators, processors and dispensaries could be licensed on the recreational side, too. The Ohio Department of Commerce would oversee the industry.
Ohioans with nonviolent criminal records for marijuana crimes could have their records sealed and could participate in the newly legal industry, Weinstein said.
A 10% excise tax, in addition to state and local sales tax, would be collected on marijuana products, with the proceeds going primarily to education, road and bridge repair and local governments. Ohio's tax rate would be in line with Michigan and would be lower than Illinois, Colorado and other states.
For two years, up to $20 million of each year's proceeds would go to research for treating medical conditions of veterans with marijuana and preventing veteran suicide. The legalization bill would have a social equity component to encourage people of color and other traditionally disadvantaged individuals to participate in the industry, Weinstein said.
Marijuana legalization has not gone far in Ohio
Six years ago, Ohioans voted on a constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana, but it would have only been grown at 10 pre-selected sites owned by investors in the amendment campaign. The measure failed with 64% of voters voting against it.
Ohio lawmakers worked quickly the next year to establish a highly restrictive medical marijuana program. It took more than two years to set up the program; the first sale took place in January 2019.
A bill introduced earlier this year, House Bill 210, would have allowed personal cultivation of marijuana plants and expungement of certain marijuana offenses. The bill has yet to have a hearing. Rep. Juanita Brent, D-Cleveland, introduced a bill to fully decriminalize marijuana use and possession in last year, but it died last session without a single hearing.
Gov. Mike DeWine, a Republican, is still opposed to legalization, a spokesman confirmed Thursday.
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