By Greg Moore

The passage of Ohio Issue 2 on the November 7th ballot goes well beyond the provisions that would legalize adult-use cannabis or marijuana. The Act to Control and Regulate Adult Use Cannabis measure would enact a statutory change to the Ohio Revised Code regarding the adult use of cannabis, but would also establish a new state agency and regulations to “authorize and regulate the cultivation, processing, sale, purchase, possession, home grow, and use of adult-use cannabis by adults at least twenty-one years of age.”

The passage of Issue 2 would create a new Chapter 3780 of the Ohio Revised Code that would permit adults 21 years of age or older to possess 2.5 ounces of cannabis or fifteen grams of concentrates or extracts. The proposed law would also legalize and regulate the cultivation, manufacturing, testing, and sale of marijuana and marijuana products to adults over twenty-one and legalize cannabis home growing for adults ages 21 and up with a limit of six plants per person and 12 plants per household.

The campaign effort to Vote Yes on Issue 2 is being led by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMA). According to the CRMA’s spokesperson, Tom Haren, the passage of Issue 2 would “fix a broken system while ensuring local control and keeping marijuana out of the hands of children.” The CRMA coalition successfully led a statewide petition drive that garnered 127,772 signatures from Ohio voters, enough to be certified by the Ohio Ballot Board to qualify for the November ballot.

According to the CRMA, other stated benefits of the new law would:

  • Reduce illegal marijuana sales.
  • Provide for safer and regulated cannabis products.
  • Limit transportation of out-of-state cannabis in the state; and
  • Provide funding and social equity opportunities in the state to support communities that have been impacted by the effects of the illegal marijuana drug trade.

To facilitate the regulation of the new law, Issue 2 would establish a new state agency called the Division of Cannabis Control within the already existing Ohio Department of Commerce. According to the statutory provisions, the new agency would “have the authority to license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult-use cannabis operators, testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.” The new law would be an expansion of the existing laws that regulate the current medical marijuana industry in the state of Ohio.

An Ohio State University Drug Enforcement and Policy Center study estimated statewide revenues from the regulated sale of cannabis range from $276 to $403 million per year after five years of a fully operational cannabis market has been operational in Ohio. Revenues would be drawn from a 10% excise tax on sales and a 5.75% sales tax on all cannabis-regulated adult-use sales. The OSU Policy Center’s tax revenue estimates are based on actual revenues from twenty-one other states where regulated cannabis sales have generated hundreds of millions of dollars in new state revenue after five years or more of operations.

Opponents of Issue 2 have challenged those revenue estimates. In an Oct. 5 Spectrum News 1 televised debate between supporters and opponents of Issue #2, State Senator Mark Romanchuk, a Republican from Ontario challenged the coalition’s estimates of projected revenues. The 10% tax rate, he asserted “is a very, very low rate, especially when you consider Illinois and Washington State have a 30% rate.” The senator also noted that the current Ohio tax rate for casinos was 33%. “So, 10% is a bit of a rip-off frankly,” he stated.

Senator Romanchuk was joined in his opposition by Corinne LaMarca, representing the Protect Ohio Workers and Families organization. She recounted the death of her daughter Jennifer, a recent graduate of Notre Dame College who was killed in a car accident in 2011 by a driver who was driving while under the influence of marijuana. “I wish I could tell you what happened to my daughter was a rare event, but it is not. So many people are dying today from impaired driving from marijuana and if we keep legalizing, that number will just grow exponentially” LaMarca said.

Supporters of Vote Yes on Issue 2, Attorney Tom Haren, and State Representative Casey Weinstein, (D) from Hudson, Ohio spelled out the benefits of the new revenues from the proposed law. Weinstein argued that Issue 2 would invest millions of dollars annually into social programs that will benefit municipalities and communities that have been the most impacted by the existing marijuana laws. Specifically, they both pointed to the breakdown of how anticipated revenues would be disbursed:

  • 36% of all tax revenues generated would create a Social Equity and Jobs Fund for the purpose of supporting social equity initiatives, jobs, and economic development programs across Ohio.
  • 36% would be earmarked for a Host Communities Cannabis Fund for municipalities across the state where adult-use cannabis dispensaries are located.
  • 25% would be set aside for a Substance Abuse and Addiction Fund for the research and treatment of substance abuse for individuals with cannabis and other addictions across the state of Ohio.
  • 3% would fund the proposed Division of Cannabis Control and Tax Commissioner Fund to support the regulatory and administrative cost of overseeing the adult-use cannabis industry statewide.

On September 27, 2023, the FM3 Research Firm released the results of a poll conducted in mid-August that showed 59% of likely Ohio Voters supportive of Issue 2, with 36% opposed.  If passed by a majority of voters on Election Day, the new law would take effect 30 days after passage.

Unlike Issue 1, Issue 2 is a statutory amendment to the Ohio Revised Code, rather than an amendment to the Ohio Constitution. As a statutory amendment, the Republican-led Ohio General Assembly could repeal, replace, or modify the law with additional requirements or mandates. Republican leaders in the General Assembly have not yet said what actions they would take if the Issue is to be approved by voters on Election Day, Nov. 7th.