(January 4, 2022, 7:20 PM EST) -- A campaign that is working to legalize adult-use cannabis in Ohio fell short of the number of signatures it needs to put the question on the ballot, but says it's optimistic it can make up the difference before a final deadline next week.
Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose told the campaign, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, in a letter Monday that it still needed 13,062 signatures to qualify for the November ballot. Under state law, the group has until 10 days from the letter — or Jan. 13th — to gather the remaining signatures, LaRose said.
Tom Haren, a spokesperson for the campaign, told Law360 on Tuesday that the group "fully expect[s]" to make up the difference within the allotted time frame.
"We have a veritable army of people out in the field as we speak — this is a minor blip, and we are confident we will have our proposal in front of the General Assembly as planned," Haren said in an email.
The proposed legislation would create a Division of Cannabis Control within the Ohio Department of Commerce to regulate the new industry, as well as task the state's Department of Development with creating a social equity and jobs program.
State Reps. Jamie Callender, R-Lake County, and Ron Ferguson, R-Wintersville, have pitched their own adult-use cannabis legalization bill. The Ohio Adult Use Act, or H.B. 498, was officially introduced in December and would impose a 10% sales tax on adult-use products, with half of the tax receipts going into the state's general revenue fund. One-quarter of the remaining tax revenue would be earmarked for drug enforcement, and one-quarter would be devoted to mental health programs.
The bill would also add opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana patients in Ohio and limit the number of retail dispensary licenses to one shop for every 60,000 Ohioans until 2027, when the department can reassess and dole out additional licenses.
Regarding advocates' efforts to put a legalization question on the ballot in 2022, Callender said in October that he was not opposed to the ballot referendum and that there was a good chance the ballot question would be certified before lawmakers could hold hearings on his bill. However, he said a legalization solution that originates in the statehouse may be more workable in the long run.
"I think there's a strong argument that the Legislature taking the initiative and doing it … lets it stay within the Legislature's control, rather than something thrown on the Constitution that may not have the flexibility we would like in the future," he said.
A Democratic-led bill to legalize adult-use cannabis was introduced in August as H.B. 382. It was advanced out of its first committee in September but made no further progress.
Another bill making several changes to the state's medical marijuana program was approved by the state Senate in December on a 26-5 vote, and is currently in the House. That bill, S.B. 261, would create a new Division of Marijuana Control within the state's Department of Commerce to oversee the medical marijuana program, currently run by the Board of Pharmacy. It would also expand the list of qualifying conditions to include opioid addiction, as well as any condition where a physician thinks a patient would benefit from medical cannabis.