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Republican senators propose extensive changes to recreational marijuana program

Close up of a marijuana flower bud
A citizen-initiated statute to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio will be put to voters in November 2023.

With just days until recreational marijuana would be legal in Ohio, Republican state senators have unveiled what they want to see modified within the state’s soon-to-be program that was ratified by about 57% of voters under Issue 2.

Sen. Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) introduced the list of changes as an addition to House Bill 86, which revises liquor control laws, and could now be the vehicle to push cannabis policy changes forward.

Home growth of marijuana would no longer be allowed under the senate’s revision of Issue 2, which also further limits how potent plant and extract products could be. Senators have retooled the tax rates and distribution levels, too.

The list of proposed modifications includes:

  • A ban on public smoking
  • Further limiting legal possession amounts to one ounce of plant material, five grams of extracts and 500 milligrams of any form of THC
  • Further limiting the potency of products by changing the THC content maximums to 25% for plant products and 50% for concentrates or extracts
  • Packaging and advertising regulations, such as barring edibles from being like a "realistic or fictional human, animal or fruit"
  • Setting the ceiling for the total number of dispensaries allowed statewide at 230
  • Enabling localities to regulate location of dispensaries or outright ban dispensaries in their jurisdiction
  • Eliminating any form of home grow
  • Increasing the consumer sales excise tax from 10%, under Issue 2, to 15%
  • Introducing a new 15% cultivator excise tax on wholesalers
  • Changing tax revenue distribution to:
    • 30% to the state’s Law Enforcement Training Fund, which is under the Ohio Department of Public Safety
    • 15% to the Marijuana Substance Abuse Treatment and Prevention Fund, which under the Ohio Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services
    • 10% to the Safe Driver Training Fund, which is under the public safety department
    • The remaining 45% to the state’s general revenue fund

Under the current Issue 2 language, 72% of tax revenue coming from the state’s eventual program would be divided equally between the social equity and jobs program fund and a fund for communities with dispensaries. Another quarter will go to addiction treatment, and 3% to administrative costs, according to the statute.

Senators on the general government committee voted 4-1 along party lines to add the substitute bill to HB 86.

McColley said he believes it’s still in line with what Ohioans wanted.

“If you went and you polled all the people who voted yes, I would imagine the most popular reason for voting yes would have been access to products,” he said after the Monday committee hearing. “And we've heard that message loud and clear. They're going to have access to products with relatively few restrictions.”

The silver lining for those who were opposed to marijuana's legalization, McColley said during his testimony, is that it has always been on the black market before now. Legalization gives legislators the chance to make it safer, such as through what they are proposing.

But Democrats in both chambers, including Sen. Bill DeMora (D-Columbus) who was the sole ‘no’ vote, have already said it goes too far.

“The potency levels, the taxing, everything—this bill very basically told the voters, ‘Screw you, you don’t know what you’re talking about, and we know better than you do,” DeMora said after the Monday committee hearing.

Senate Minority Leader Nicki Antonio (D-Lakewood), in an emailed media release, wrote the proposal was “egregious and could thwart the will of the people.”

The Ohio House is working on its own version of cannabis changes, Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) said. “It’s been a bipartisan effort, and it is an effort where we have tried to honor the will and the spirit of the voter,” Weinstein said in an interview.

HB 86 gets it second hearing in the senate general government committee at 2:30 p.m. Tuesday, which will be the only time for both proponents and opponents to testify on the possible changes.

To go into effect by Thursday, legislators would have to tack on an emergency clause—requiring a two-thirds vote in both the Ohio Senate and House—and get Gov. Mike DeWine’s signature.

Sarah Donaldson covers government, policy, politics and elections for the Ohio Public Radio and Television Statehouse News Bureau. Contact her at
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