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Ohio legislature won't take on marijuana law tweaks: "there's just not that consensus"

House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) stands at the dais in February 2024.
Sarah Donaldson
Statehouse News Bureau
House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) stands at the dais in February 2024.

With adult-use marijuana sales in Ohio on track to start in early fall, the window for state lawmakers to retool the state’s pending recreational program is closing. But Republican Ohio House leaders said the legislature can’t and likely won’t find common ground on the issue.

Voters approved Issue 2 in November, legalizing recreational marijuana, allowing each household to grow up to a dozen plants, and creating a 10% sales tax that would be split among a state social equity and jobs program fund that would help people who'd been harmed by previous marijuana convictions, communities with dispensaries, addiction treatment and administrative costs. The statute took effect in December, but the regulatory system to permit sales wasn't expected to be in place for months.

About six hours before possession, use and home growth became legal, a bill to make some changes cleared the Ohio Senate 28-2. It would have cut the limit on household plants in half to six, increasing the tax to 15% and sending the revenue to law enforcement training, state-run funds on substance abuse treatment and prevention and on safe driver training, and the state's general revenue fund.

But the House didn’t move that proposal or its own version and negotiations across the chambers seemingly broke down, and since then, there’s been little movement. It’s not for a lack of discussion among the majority party, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill) said last Tuesday.

“Getting those to where we have a consensus of saying, ‘This is what needs to be different than what the people passed,’ there's just not that consensus right now, and it's not a contentious thing,” Stephens said.

But administrative rulemaking by the Division of Cannabis Control, under the Ohio Department of Commerce, is moving ahead on the timeline outlined in Issue 2. Under the current plans, the first round of licensure applications—reserved for existing medical retailers to get dual licensure—will go live in June.

Since February, the division has submitted batches of draft regulations for consideration. Some are scheduled for hearing in front of the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review this month.

“It will play out as the voters passed it, for now,” said Minority Leader Allison Russo (D-Upper Arlington). “I am not very optimistic that there will be some large, cannabis bill that comes out of these chambers, maybe some small changes around the edges.”

Those tweaks, Russo said on Tuesday, could include expungement and safety proposals.

For months, Gov. Mike DeWine has routinely urged lawmakers to pass regulations outside the rulemaking process. Before the Senate voted on their package of proposals in December, DeWine called an early evening press conference backing them.

“What we don't want is a situation where the black market grows and we don't want a situation really where people don't know what the rules are, and we just need to get this done," he said then.

One of the biggest modifications would have enable licensed medical marijuana dispensaries to begin selling products to non-medical customers within 90 days of the governor’s signature—much sooner than the present timeline put forth under Issue 2.
Copyright 2024 The Statehouse News Bureau.