COLUMBUS, Ohio (Nov. 8, 2023) – Yesterday, Ohio voters approved a ballot measure legalizing marijuana for adults 21 and over despite ongoing federal cannabis prohibition. Ohio is the 24th state to legalize marijuana for adult use.
Ohio Issue 2 legalizes the purchase, possession, and cultivation of marijuana by adults 21 and over. It also creates a tax and regulatory framework for commercial cultivation and retail marijuana sales.
Ohio voters approved the measure by a 57 to 43 percent margin. It will go into effect on Dec. 7.
Under the law, adults can possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals can cultivate up to six plants. Households with two or more adults can cultivate up to 12 plants.
The law creates the Division of Cannabis Control to oversee licensing and regulations. It must establish rules and begin issuing licenses for retailers within 9 months of the effective date.
Issue 2 also limits criminal liability for financial institutions that provide banking services to any lawful adult-use marijuana operator or testing laboratory licensed under the law. This is an important provision because marijuana businesses face significant challenges accessing banking services due to ongoing federal prohibition.
POTENTIAL LEGISLATIVE INTERFERENCE
The legislature has the authority to rewrite or repeal any voter “initiated state statute.” A number of Republicans in the GOP-controlled Ohio General Assembly have expressed opposition to legalization, and Gov. Mike DeWine is also a vocal opponent.
Prior to the vote, members of the GOP-led Senate passed a resolution introduced by Sen. Mark Romanchuk and Sen. Terry Johnson urging voters to reject marijuana legalization.
Even before the election, Senate President Matt Huffman indicated he would push for changes to the law.
“I definitely think that if it passes, there are problems in it that need to get addressed. I will advocate for reviewing things or repealing things or changing things that are in it.”
Huffman claims that legalizing marijuana could cause a “mental health crisis.” He also told the Associated Press that the Senate may also reconsider “questionable language” regarding limits on THC.
“This statute was written by the marijuana industry and should not be treated as a cash grab for their cash crop at the expense of a state trying to emerge from the opioid epidemic.”
Gov. DeWine also spoke out against the ballot measure before the election, saying, “I don’t think it’s worth the money we’re going to get because of all the other problems that it is going to create.” He cited the potential harm to children and increased traffic fatalities.
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol ran the Issue 2 campaign. Spokesperson Tom Haren said Ohio voters have a right to expect that their elected representatives will “respect the will of the people.”
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
The legalization of medical marijuana in 2016 removed a layer of laws prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana. The passage of Issue 2 puts an end to marijuana prohibition completely. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. In 2021, New York, New Mexico, Virginia and Connecticut legalized marijuana through legislative action, and Rhode Island legalized cannabis for adult use in 2022. Missouri and Maryland legalized marijuana in November 2022, and Delaware joined in 2023. With adult-use legalization in Ohio, there are now 38 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 24 legalizing it for recreational use.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. As Tenth Amendment Center Executive Director Michael Boldin noted, “When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations, or mandates down our throats.”
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