With the voter-approved initiative set to go into effect on Dec. 7, lawmakers have less than 30 days to enact any legislative adjustments.
Less than a week after Ohio voters overwhelmingly approved Issue 2, a ballot measure legalizing adult-use cannabis in the state, Governor Mike DeWine (R) and several influential state lawmakers are promising quick and impactful changes to the new law before it goes into effect on Dec. 7.
According to several local and national media outlets, Ohio's chief executive is calling on state legislators to amend and adjust specific provisions contained within Issue 2. And because it is a citizen-backed initiative, Ohio lawmakers are lawfully permitted to make changes to the law. However, they have less than a month to make those adjustments before the law takes effect.
DeWine was a vocal critic of Issue 2 leading up to the election. Almost immediately following its approval by Ohio voters this past Election Day, he made his intentions to whittle down and scale back the legalization reform known.
"My recommendation to the General Assembly is that they take action to make sure that both rights are protected. People have a right to smoke it. People have a right to consume it. But also that everybody else's who doesn't choose to do so is also protected with their rights as well," DeWine said last Thursday.
"My recommendation to the General Assembly is that they take action to make sure that both rights are protected. People have a right to smoke it. People have a right to consume it. But also that everybody else's who doesn't choose to do so is also protected with their rights as well."
- Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R)
Proponents of Issue 2 are not surprised by the governor's words or actions. Likewise, they are prepared to battle against any changes or amendments that might attempt to weaken the spirit and intention of the legalization reform.
In an interview with the Columbus Dispatch, Tom Haren, spokesperson for the Coalition To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which led Issue 2, said, "I can't believe in 2023 we're actually talking about elected officials not respecting the will of the voters and not respecting the outcome of an election."
Governor DeWine's primary focus for change centers on protecting children from "misleading" advertising, as well as provisions to limit the threat of intoxicated drivers and public exposure to marijuana smoke.
"One goal will be to make sure that they are protected from advertising (regarding) marijuana. We want to do everything within our power to reduce the number of inadvertent consumption of gummy bears, cookies, and other products that have marijuana," DeWine said.
"One goal will be to make sure that they are protected from advertising (regarding) marijuana. We want to do everything within our power to reduce the number of inadvertent consumption of gummy bears, cookies, and other products that have marijuana."
- Ohio Governor Mike DeWine (R)
DeWine is not the first Ohio politician promising changes to the ballot initiative upon voter approval. Last month, Senate President Matt Huffman gave a rousing, if not wholly authentic, speech on the Ohio State Senate floor expressing his intense opposition to Issue 2, proclaiming that, if it passes, the legislation will be "coming right back before this body" and will likely receive changes.
During his remarks on the Senate floor, Huffman declared, "We're going to have a mental health crisis on our hands. If Issue 2 passes, there will be more teenagers in the state of Ohio committing suicide. We are going to pay for this for years and years and years, and it's only going to get worse."
He later backtracked on those incendiary comments, saying that he would not be seeking a full repeal of the legalization effort but would instead like to see lawmakers clarify language "regarding limits for THC and tax rates as well as other parts of the statute."
Joining DeWine and Huffman in their efforts to attack and diminish the new law is Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill). Following the measure's approval, Stephens said, "Now is the time for the legislature to lead on how best to allocate tax revenues while responsibly regulating the industry."
However, some leaders in the GOP-controlled State House do not agree with Governor DeWine's approach to the new law. Many, like Rep. Ron Ferguson (R), are doubtful the legislature will seek to overturn or drastically modify the voter-approved initiative. "There are not a majority of legislators in both chambers that would be pro-repeal. That's definitely not the case. You would have no Democrats, and there are not enough Republicans to put them at the top," Ferguson said.
"There are not a majority of legislators in both chambers that would be pro-repeal. That's definitely not the case. You would have no Democrats, and there are not enough Republicans to put them at the top."
- Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens (R-Kitts Hill)
While it seems inadvisable to oppose the people's will and interfere with the legalization reform, there is a small but adamant percentage of primarily Republican lawmakers determined to fight any laws, voter-approved or otherwise, aimed at legalizing adult-use cannabis. Last century's failed experiment with alcohol prohibition also had many adamant anti-alcohol politicians promising similar opposition to the re-legalization of alcohol in the 1930s.
Many of those dissenting voices were quickly replaced following the repeal of prohibition by individuals who understood the political and social will of the people. It would behoove any current or aspiring political office seekers to learn the lessons of their predecessors from the 20th century and get on the right side of history before they, too, are replaced by forward-thinking and progressive-minded leaders who understand that cannabis is here to stay.