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Ohio’s legal marijuana issue is back in the hands of lawmakers, for now

Nathan Konik

A House Democratic lawmaker said an issue to legalize marijuana for personal use in Ohio could have resulted in a large turnout of voters, that is until Republican leaders settled to move the voter initiative to 2023.

A settlement reached by Republican legislative leaders and a group petitioning for legal marijuana stated that the potential ballot issue would be put off until next year.

Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) is sponsoring a bill to legalize marijuana for personal use and he filed to introduce legislation that reflected the petitioners’ initiated statute, HB628.

Weinstein said an issue to legalize marijuana on the November ballot had the potential to generate interest from a lot of young or new voters.

“There’s so many good things for so many different groups here. I’m really disappointed to see us have to wait to have our voices weighed-in for political reasons,” said Weinstein.

Republican leaders countered Weinstein's comments by pointing out that the petitioners also agreed to the settlement.

Rob Nichols, spokesperson for Secretary of State Frank LaRose, added, “If the representative is saying the whole purpose of the marijuana initiated statue was to drive Democrat turnout, then he should come out and say exactly that.”

A group called, Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, collected signatures to prompt an initiated statute with Ohio lawmakers. An initiated statute allows the legislature to pass a bill reflecting the petition language, if the lawmakers do not act then the group would have the option to collect more signatures and take that petition to the November election as a statewide ballot issue.

There was a dispute over whether the petitioners submitted their signatures in time to make this year's ballot.

The legal marijuana coalition filed a lawsuit to address that dispute, then immediately reached a settlement with LaRose, House Speaker Bob Cupp (R-Lima), and Senate President Matt Huffman (R-Lima).

The parties agreed that the petitioners can resubmit signatures in January. If lawmakers do not pass the issue by May 3, 2023 then petitioners can take it to the voters in November 2023 — as long as the group can gather another 132,887 signatures.

Weinstein said he will now focus his attention back on his bill to legalize marijuana for personal use, and hopes it will generate some hearings. There is also a Republican-sponsored bill, HB498, to legalize marijuana for personal use from Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) and Rep. Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville).

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