Ohio cannabis lobbyists and activists are hoping to put pressure on the legislature later this month in order to bring the state into the industry with new businesses and establish new criminal justice reforms.
Ally Reaves, cannabis activist and founder of CannaWomen, said that advocates, labor organizations, former NFL wide receiver Ray Fisher, and other lobbyists plan to have a Lobby Day on Apr. 20 in Columbus that will have all state lawmakers who represent and advocate for cannabis use to make a push to pass laws deadlocked in the legislature.
“People want opportunities in Ohio and have advocated for years to have these programs here,” Reaves said. “People need to be educated about the potential of the industry in this state.”
The bill with the best opportunity to become law, say advocates, is SB261, currently waiting for a vote in the House after passing the Senate. The measure would let physicians include any condition from which a patient could benefit or experience relief from cannabis use. Currently, cannabis patient conditions must fall within a list of about two dozen ailments approved by the state Board of Pharmacy.
SB261 also includes a slew of other reforms, including a plan to consolidate regulation under a single agency, increase the number of dispensary licenses, and a measure that would more than double the allowed square footage for small, Level II cultivators.
Advocates such as lobbyist and cannabis security consultant Tim Johnson believe that this bill has a better chance of seeing the light of day, as well as adult use recreational bills debated in the legislature. Johnson will also attend to speak about criminal justice reform in the state, related to housing, employment barriers, and child custody.
“I think there’s a chance there is movement on these issues,” Johnson said. “We need to have these things passed so that they can be properly regulated. We’re hoping we can get the attention of legislators. It’ll definitely be a battle.”
The biggest mystery on both Reeves and Johnson’s mind is what the General Assembly will do with its adult use bills. A Democratic-sponsored bill and a Republican-sponsored bill await in the legislature with both parties unsure of which approach to take.
The Democratic bill includes expungement and decriminalization measures, creates specific adult-use dispensaries, microbusinesses, and tiers of grower licenses, while the Republican bill scraps expungement requirements and eliminates the state’s 15% diversity requirement for license distribution. However, the Republican-backed bill does fund the social equity program through adult use taxes.
Furthermore, another bill was introduced through Ohio’s unique initiated statute law by The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol after the group obtained 136,729 signatures. In the statute, adults ages 21 and older would be able to buy, possess, grow, and consume cannabis and would create adult-use cultivation, processing, and dispensary licenses, home grow up to six plants per adult with a maximum of 12 plants per household and set a 10% sales tax at the point of sale.
All three bills face a steep climb, however. Senate President Matt Huffman is staunchly opposed to any recreational cannabis in the state, and Gov. Mike DeWine indicated that he’ll veto it if it comes to his desk.
If the statute fails to pass the legislature by the coalition, then Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol must gather about 300,000 total signatures to turn the proposed legislation into a November general election ballot initiative.