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Ohio voters won't decide on initiative to legalize marijuana until at least next year

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Ohio voters won’t weigh-in on a proposed ballot initiative to legalize marijuana for personal use until at least next year. That comes out of a settlement between state leaders and a group seeking to make pot legal for Ohioans over 21.

Representatives of the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol sued to get a proposal on this year’s ballot, if state lawmakers didn’t pass it by May 28.

The lawsuit came after Secretary of State Frank LaRose, a Republican, said the petitioners missed a December deadline to submit signatures for this year’s ballot.

But in a settlement reached only a day after the suit was filed, the marijuana legalization group, LaRose, House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima) and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima) agreed that the petitioners can resubmit signatures in January. If the issue isn’t passed by next May 3, it can go before voters in November 2023 — as long as the group can gather another 132,887 signatures.

Republican leaders have signaled they don't have much interest in passing legislation to legalize marijuana. Two bills have been proposed, one from Republicans and one from Democrats. The proposal from Democratic lawmakers is almost the same as the one from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

When he rolled out his bill, Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) made note that it was the first time someone from his party had proposed a bill to legalize marijuana for personal use.

"There's some real strong arguments that we're in a different time now than we were, we know a lot more and quite frankly society is in a different place than it was 20 years ago," said Callender.

Speaker Cupp said there would be “significant opposition” to the issue if it came up for a debate in the Ohio House, but added there would also be significant support “in some corners” as well.

A vote on legalizing marijuana this fall could have played a role in turnout for the midterm ballot, which includes key races for governor and U.S. Senate.

In a statement, the group's Tom Haren wrote: “The most important thing for us was preserving an opportunity for Ohio voters to decide this issue. 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.”