Ohio has entered a unique phase in its marijuana policy. As of Thursday, December 7, adults in Ohio are legally permitted to possess and grow cannabis. However, they face a peculiar situation: there is nowhere legal to purchase it.
This development follows the passing of Issue 2, a citizen initiative, which the voters approved in November. Despite the urgency to set regulatory frameworks for marijuana sales, the Ohio House adjourned without addressing the issue, leaving the state in a legislative limbo.
Republican Governor Mike DeWine, addressing the complexity of the situation, urged lawmakers for prompt action. He expressed concern over the emerging gray area, stating, “We’re not going to pass, sight unseen, such a monstrous proposition in 48 hours. That’s nuts.” His worry points to the potential rise in black market sales and the dangers of unregulated products, making a case for a controlled and safe implementation of the law.
Representatives from both parties echoed the need for a thoughtful approach. Rep. Jamie Callender remarked, “There’s no drop-dead date for implementing a legal sales scheme,” emphasizing the importance of aligning the rollout with the voters’ wishes. Meanwhile, Rep. Bill Seitz defended the legislative pause, underlining the necessity to thoroughly work through the complexities of cannabis sales, taxation, and regulation.
The law, as it stands, allows adults aged 21 and over to buy and possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and to grow up to six plants per individual or 12 plants per household. The state has a nine-month window to establish a legal framework for marijuana purchases, with a proposed 10% tax on sales. The revenue is intended for various purposes, including administrative costs, addiction treatment, and support for social equity and job programs in the cannabis industry.
However, the Senate’s last-minute proposal, which drastically diverged from what voters approved, sparked controversy. The proposed amendments included reducing the possession limit to 1 ounce, increasing taxes to 15%, and redirecting most tax revenue to the state government fund. This proposal was met with backlash from both the issue’s proponents and members of the House.
In a compromise, the Senate, with DeWine’s input, agreed to retain the 2.5-ounce possession limit and allow 35% THC in plants. The compromise also includes a provision to expunge criminal records for those convicted of possessing up to 2.5 ounces, mandates child-safe packaging, and restrictions on advertising targeting children.
Steven Steinglass, dean emeritus of the Cleveland State University College of Law, highlighted the unusual nature of the current situation, noting that “Voters have only approved three initiated statutes in 111 years, and none of the three have been amended, repealed or fiddled with by the General Assembly.”
Senate President Matt Huffman expressed his view on the compromise, stating, “I’m opposed to (legalization), but it’s the law. We don’t want illegal sales—the black market, if you will—to get a foothold.”
As Ohio navigates this new territory, the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, through its executive director Louis Tobin, assures the public that certain aspects of the new law are immediately enforceable. Tobin clarified, “As of Thursday, it’s going to be very difficult to find probable cause and to prosecute people who are carrying around less than 2.5 ounces of marijuana.” However, he warned that violations such as smoking in cars, possessing more than 2.5 ounces, engaging in private sales, and driving under the influence remain illegal.
This situation places Ohio at the forefront of a new chapter in marijuana legislation, balancing voter intent with regulatory and safety concerns.