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Influential Ohio Democratic Senator Decries the House GOP Leadership’s Failure to Enact Adult-Use Cannabis Law

Calling it a 'disservice' to voters, Senator Nickie Antonio (D) is publicly chastising her Republican colleagues for their lack of meaningful action to expedite the sale of recreational marijuana.



The politics of cannabis legalization reform is quickly becoming a game of stall tactics, questionable legislation, and overall ineptitude in the state of Ohio. Following the approval of a ballot initiative legalizing adult-use marijuana last November, GOP leaders at the State Assembly have actively delayed and obstructed the facilitation of the wildly popular new law.


Now, according to numerous local and national media outlets, one influential Democratic Senator is calling out her Republican counterparts for intentionally sabotaging the implementation of the new statute to keep the people's will from being realized. 


During an interview with local news station WKRC, Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D) said, "It's really being held up in the House. (And it's) really a disservice to the people of Ohio."


"It's really being held up in the House. (And it's) really a disservice to the people of Ohio."

- Ohio State Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D)


However, the chorus of criticism toward the House GOP leadership is not just from Democrats. Even Gov. Mike DeWine (R ), an outspoken opponent of the new reform measure, is calling for the state legislature to speed up the process for legal recreational sales and resolve what he calls a "ridiculous" situation where cannabis is legal to possess and grow but the ability to purchase it at licensed shops is still several months away.


For its part, the state Senate passed a bill in December to address that very issue by enabling medical cannabis dispensaries in the state to jointly serve patients and recreational adult consumers within 90 days of the statute's enactment, along with other modifications to the initial law. However, the House has refused to consider its own version of the Senate measure. Instead, it is attempting to craft an alternative legislative package.


"Every day that goes by where we don't have the ability for folks to either go to the medical dispensaries to legally purchase, we also open ourselves up for an illegal market. All that time that passes without having these pathways to legal purchase, without having expungements, and that means people who could have this on their record that aren't able to get jobs, not able to change things in their lives because of having this record," Antonio said. 


"Every day that goes by where we don't have the ability for folks to either go to the medical dispensaries to legally purchase, we also open ourselves up for an illegal market. All that time that passes without having these pathways to legal purchase, without having expungements, and that means people who could have this on their record that aren't able to get jobs, not able to change things in their lives because of having this record."

- Ohio State Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio (D)


Not surprisingly, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R) is pushing back against all the criticism. Earlier this month, he referred to the question of implementation as a "complex issue" after his chamber refused to take up the Senate-approved plan.


In the meantime, James Canepa, the recently appointed first superintendent of the Ohio Division of Cannabis Control (DCC), says the continued delays could ultimately complicate his regulators' ability to safely and effectively get the new market sector on its feet. 


"To test it, to process it, to sell it, to grow it—you need a permit. And there are steps that need to happen. One of the big steps is this rulemaking process. The division doesn't have unilateral authority to decide whatever the rules are going to be," Canepa said.


"To test it, to process it, to sell it, to grow it—you need a permit. And there are steps that need to happen. One of the big steps is this rulemaking process. The division doesn't have unilateral authority to decide whatever the rules are going to be."

- Ohio Division of Cannabis Control Superintendent


As a result of the continuing stall tactics and political belligerence by GOP House leaders, Canepa doesn't anticipate retail marijuana dispensaries to be licensed to sell to adult consumers until September 7.


The resulting political fallout for those legislators intentionally delaying the implementation process could potentially be dire. Rep. Juanita Brent (D), a staunch supporter of the new law and a key voice for including social equity provisions in the reform measure, is warning her Republican colleagues that by passing legislation that undermines the voters' decision to legalize adult-use cannabis in Ohio, they could be seriously damaging their reelection chances. 


Even though 57% of Ohio voters approved the ballot initiative this past Election Day, Governor DeWine (R) and the GOP leadership remain adamant that further changes to the law must be enacted, particularly regarding the timeline for legal sales. 


However, with each passing day without legal and regulated recreational sales, the pressure continues to mount on those blocking the process. That pressure may be starting to have an impact, most notably on Governor DeWine, who recently said he wants the legislature to pave a faster pathway for implementing the law. 


Calling the current state of affairs a "goofy situation" for Ohioans, where adults over 21 can legally possess and grow cannabis but won't be able to access regulated sales until much later this year, DeWine would like to see legislation allowing for recreational sales within two months. 


Regardless of ideological differences concerning whether adult-use cannabis sales should be legal or not, the overriding issue confronting lawmakers in Ohio is one of simple economics. With Michigan, Illinois, and now Minnesota all having legal recreational sales, the Buckeye state is surrounded by relatively close alternatives for Ohio consumers to spend their money.  


The delay also provides life for the always lurking illicit cannabis market that will never disappear until Ohioans feel confident in the new regulated adult-use market sector. The clock is ticking for Ohio legislators. 


How they choose to use that time will go a long way in determining the ultimate success or failure of the new market launch. Those choices could also significantly influence the political futures of lawmakers unwilling to serve the people's will over their own personal and political philosophies. 


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