Ohio Legislators Still Working To Implement Changes to Adult-Use Cannabis Law

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Ohio Legislators Still Working To Implement Changes to Adult-Use Cannabis Law

Adult-use cannabis is legal in Ohio as of November 2023, but legislators are taking their time to add changes to the voter-approved law.

Ohio’s progress on cannabis has come to a temporary halt after House legislators fail to move the bill forward.

Last week Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens spoke to reporters, calling cannabis a “complex issue.” Voters approved Issue 2 at the ballot in November 2023, which took effect on Dec. 7, but since it was a citizen initiative, legislators have the power to add changes to the law after it has been approved by voters. Two bills, House Bill 86 and House Bill 354, would implement certain changes to the law established by the voter initiative, but legislators have not moved forward with either of them yet.

House Bill 86 was initially introduced in February 2023, and would implement a few changes to the law established by Issue 2. HB-86 passed in the house between May and June 2023, and was introduced into the Senate in September. The Senate approved changes to the law by December, which includes automatic expungements and funding for the program, establishing a grace period for medical cannabis dispensaries to sell adult-use cannabis for 90 days after Dec. 7 (instead of nine months), expanding license eligibility, and funding the 988 suicide hotline. “In spite of the initial bills proposed by the House and Senate majorities which reduced the provisions in Issue 2 adopted by the people of Ohio, the Senate Democratic minority held the line and successfully negotiated a compromise bill that would salvage the voice of the people,” said Sen. Vernon Sykes in a press release in December.

The Senate changes were sent to the House, which made no action to further the bill as of the session on Feb. 7.

Despite any current or future changes, Issue 2 will still proceed as planned though. “Issue 2 puts in place a full regulatory framework … We don’t need the legislature to do anything,” explained Tom Haren, the spokesperson for the group behind Issue 2, Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

Issue 2 also called for the creation of the Division of Cannabis Control (DCC) as part of the Ohio Department of Commerce, which will oversee the development of rules to regulate adult-use cannabis sales. According to the Ohio Capital Journal, the DCC is expected to have those rules in place by June 7. Provisional licenses will be given to non-medical cannabis facilities by Sept. 7, according to an email statement provided to the new outlet by Ohio Department of Commerce Public Information Officer Jamie Crawford. 

The complexity that Stephens cited is due to two factors: first, setting up the process in how to determine who gets a dispensary license, and second, how to tackle tax revenue. “That’s where we are in our discussions and our priority right now is having those thorough discussions as there was a long runway for this issue, so we still have some time to do that,” said Stephens.

When HB-86 was first introduced, the text focused on altering state liquor laws and not cannabis. If the bill’s changes were to be passed, it would establish a cannabis tax rate increase of 15% (Issue 2 set the tax rate at 10%). It would also allow city and county governments the ability establish their own additional taxes on top of a 3% excise tax. Home growing would be permitted for residents (up to six plants), and automatic expungements would be pursued for anyone who possessed 2.5 ounces of cannabis or less. If the bill makes it to Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk, all of these changes and more would take effect 90 days after the signing occurs.

Additionally, HB-86 would distribute revenue funds to a variety of outlets, including county jail construction (28%), Department of Public Safety law enforcement training (19%), Attorney General law enforcement training (14%), substance abuse and treatment funds (11%), the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline fund (9%), cannabis receipts drug law enforcement fund (5%), cannabis expungements fund (5%), safe driver training fund (5%), Ohio Investigative Unit Operations fund (4%), Division of Marijuana Control Operations fund (3%), and cannabis poison control fund (2%).

While progress has ceased for now, some legislators are hopeful to see traction when the House resumes action on April 10. I think that everyone agrees that there are certain aspects of this legislation that weren’t adequately addressed in Issue 2, and we’ve talked about many different components,” said House Minority Leader Allison Russo. “I think there’s a lot of agreement on some things and then still many discussions that need to be had about other aspects.”

Haren is also confident that progress will be made in just a few months. “It’s been unfortunate to see some members of the General Assembly so quickly try to subvert the will of the voters through House Bill 86, for instance,” said Haren. “But I’m encouraged the House is obviously taking a much more deliberate approach.”

Separately, House Bill 354 was introduced last December as well, which aims to clarify Issue 2’s current language. While home cultivation would still be allowed, HB-354 specifies that growing must take place at a person’s home residence. It would also change the percentages of which agencies that cannabis tax revenue would be given to, including a community cannabis fund (36%), social equity fund and job fund (36%), substance abuse through the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline fund (12.5%), additional substance abuse and addiction funds (10%), the Division of Marijuana Control and Department of Taxation (3%), and the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services (2.5%).

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Region: Ohio

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