Issue 2 and recreational marijuana in Ohio: Your questions answered



This November, voters will decide whether to make Ohio the 24th state in the country to legalize recreational marijuana.

The initiative is called Issue 2 and it will appear on the Ohio voter’s ballot with the title, “To commercialize, regulate, legalize and tax the adult use of cannabis.”

The proposal came from a campaign called the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which in May finalized the two-year period of grunt work necessary to get the initiative on the ballot after drafting the proposal, circulating petitions, sending the proposal to the legislature, and circulating petitions again after the legislature opted not to act.

Given that the proposal didn’t get considered in the state legislature, the nuts and bolts of the initiative may not be widely known.

What does Issue 2 propose to do?

Broadly, Issue 2 would legalize recreational marijuana use for adults 21 years old or older, legalize home cultivation of a limited amount of marijuana plants and regulate the recreational industry.

How would it do that?

Issue 2 broadly takes Ohio’s existing regulatory framework for medical marijuana and expands it to create a legal recreational market for adults 21 years old or older.

Since Ohio passed medical marijuana in 2016, the state has allowed and regulated four distinct classes of businesses essential to the medicinal market: cultivators, processors, testing centers and dispensaries.

Issue 2 proposes giving existing cultivators and dispensaries the option to expand their capacities while distributing a set amount of new operating licenses to entirely new applicants.

For cultivators, the sites where marijuana plants are grown and harvested in the state, Issue 2 would grant the state’s larger facilities the chance to either expand their current premises or to expand to three separate facilities in order to increase their output; smaller cultivators are granted the same opportunity but allowed only one additional license instead of three. Additionally, Issue 2 proposes handing out 40 cultivating licenses to entirely new businesses.

There are currently six cultivators in the Miami Valley region producing medicinal marijuana.

For dispensaries, the licensed sites that can legally distribute marijuana, the idea is similar. Issue 2 would give existing dispensary sites the option to take one license to expand their capacity, while the state doles out 50 new licenses to entirely new applicants.

There are currently 17 medical marijuana dispensaries in the Miami Valley region.

Issue 2 does not have stipulations for new or increased capacity for existing processors, the sites where marijuana gets turned into edibles, vape oils or other products, or for testing centers, the sites where marijuana gets tested for quality control,

There are three processors in the Miami Valley region currently. The state doesn’t formally list locations of testing labs.

The entire process would be regulated by the Ohio Department of Commerce.

What about someone growing their own?

Issue 2 would also allow an Ohioan aged 21 years or older to grow and cultivate six marijuana plants at a time, no license required, with a limit of 12 per household. Home grown marijuana couldn’t be sold under the proposal.

How would recreational marijuana be taxed?

Issue 2 also proposes a 10% sales tax on all recreational marijuana sales. That tax would then go toward four separate buckets of money at the state level in the following manner:

  • 3% of tax proceeds would go toward regulatory services.
  • 36% of proceeds would go to a “cannabis social equity and jobs fund,” which would provide “financial assistance, loans, grants, and technical assistance” to minority or disadvantaged business owners in the recreational marijuana industry, among other things.
  • 36% of proceeds would go toward a local “host community cannabis fund” which would proportionally dole out tax revenue to local governments in communities that host recreational marijuana dispensaries.
  • 25% of tax revenue would go toward “substance abuse and addiction fund to support the efforts of the department of mental health and addiction services to alleviate substance and opiate abuse.”

What does Issue 2 not do?

Issue 2 doesn’t guarantee an Ohioan’s right to smoke marijuana. As with the state’s medicinal program, employers can still enforce a drug-free workplace and landlords can still maintain drug-free properties.

How might Issue 2 change, if it passed?

While the bill lays out plenty of proposals — 41 pages worth — it’s not entirely clear what the state’s final recreational marijuana program would look like. One driving factor in the murkiness is that Issue 2, should it pass in November, would only create a law in the Ohio Revised Code. As such, the law could immediately be altered or rescinded by the Ohio General Assembly, which is Republican-controlled.

This news organization previously reported that there’s a strong appetite among local Republican lawmakers to amend Issue 2, should it pass, for various reasons. One local legislator said they’d support a full repeal.

The other factor providing uncertainty to how Issue 2 might function is that the proposal gives the Department of Commerce the opportunity to unilaterally adopt rules on 22 different topics, ranging from how the department should grant, renew or revoke licenses; how license holders should be punished for breaking the rules; what the industry standards ought to be; and what the THC limit should be for adult-use recreational marijuana products.

If Issue 2 were to pass, how long would it take for the recreational market to go live?

If a simple majority of Ohio voters approve Issue 2 on Nov. 7, the law would go into effect 30 days later. But, given the slew of regulatory work necessary to get the market off the ground, it might take much longer for the state to execute its first legal recreational sale.

Tom Haren, spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, told this news organization that he’d expect the earliest such sale to come around August 2024.

Haren said the biggest concern would be around licensing, but noted that the state already regulates medical marijuana licenses through a provisional license, essentially a background check that allows the state to vet the applicant while the applicant moves forward with hiring employees, beginning construction, etc.; before granting a final certificate of operation.

“It wouldn’t surprise me if that’s the path that the department takes. We’re building on the existing infrastructure, we’re using the same regulators,” Haren said. “So, it wouldn’t surprise me if it built again off of what we already do in our medical program.”

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