Efforts to conduct a ballot referendum to legalize adult use cannabis have been pushed to 2023, as the result of a court settlement between three Ohio officials and activists attempting to bring the issue to a vote.
Two weeks ago, legalization advocates The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (CRMLA) filed a lawsuit in an Ohio court against House Speaker Bob Cupp, Senate President Matt Huffman, and Secretary of State Frank LaRose, claiming that the elected officials were blocking the forward progress of a proposed adult use cannabis initiative. On Friday, a mere week after filing the suit the two parties announced a settlement.
The settlement CRMLA reached with the three Ohio officials will allow the organization to preserve the signatures it gathered to bring the issue for a vote in the Ohio legislature for the first day of the next legislative session, January 3, 2023. Following the state’s ballot initiative process, if the legislature does not act on the proposed adult use language within four months, the petitioners can return to the streets to gather additional signatures to put it on the ballot for a November general election.
“The most important thing for us was preserving an opportunity for Ohio voters to decide this issue,” said Tom Haren, one of the petitioners and a spokesman for CRMLA. “We are delighted to have reached this settlement, which has preserved our initial signatures, provided the General Assembly with a second opportunity to consider the proposed statute, and established a clear path to ballot access in 2023. To be certain: we aren’t going anywhere and are undeterred in our goal to legalize cannabis for all adults in Ohio.”
Ohio is preparing for a major partisan battle at the ballot box this fall, as voters will decide on the reelection of GOP Gov. Frank DeWine, to decide the fate of an open U.S. Senate seat, as well as redistricted Congressional and state legislative districts. Adding adult use cannabis legalization to the ballot this November would likely attract more progressive voters to the ballot, a prospect that is certainly unappetizing to GOP leaders like Speaker Cupp, Senate President Huffman and Secretary LaRose.
Adult use legalization has encountered a series of roadblocks in the Ohio legislature this year, starting in late January, when CRMLA submitted hundreds of thousands of signatures to Secretary LaRose. The submission set the measure up for consideration by the legislature on Jan. 28, where GOP leaders in the House and Senate declined to take up the bill.
Weeks after the statutory initiative was submitted, Republican State Senate President Matt Huffman, discussing adult use, told the Columbus Dispatch, “I’m not going to bring it to the Senate floor. And if that means people want to go put it on the ballot, have at it.”
Medical use is legal in the state, and regulators are preparing to issue 73 additional dispensary licenses. There has also been some forward legislative progress in expanding allowed uses for medical cannabis in the state.