Ohio Senate Committee Advances Bill To Eliminate Marijuana Home Grow, Reduce Possession Limits And Raise Taxes—Days Before Legalization Takes Effect - Read of Green
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Ohio Senate Committee Advances Bill To Eliminate Marijuana Home Grow, Reduce Possession Limits And Raise Taxes—Days Before Legalization Takes Effect

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Source: Marijuana Moment

An Ohio Senate committee has given initial approval to a newly unveiled proposal to fundamentally alter the state’s voter-approved marijuana legalization law that’s set to take effect later this week. The legislation being advanced in the GOP-controlled chamber would eliminate a home grow option for adults, reduce the possession limit, raise the sales tax on cannabis and steer funding away from social equity programs and toward law enforcement—along with other amendments concerning THC limits, public consumption and more.

During a 30-minute hearing on Monday, the Senate General Government Committee voted 4-1 to attach the cannabis legislation to an unrelated House-passed bill on alcohol regulations. As revised, the legislation contains several provisions that Republican leaders have previewed in recent weeks since voters approved legalization at the ballot last month, but it also goes further, for example, by proposing to criminalize people who grow their own cannabis at home.

Senate President Matt Huffman (R) said he’s aiming to pass it on the floor as early as Wednesday before it’s potentially sent over to the House for concurrence. The plan is to get the changes enacted on an emergency before the legalization of possession and home cultivation becomes legal on Thursday.

Advocates and Democratic lawmakers have already expressed frustration with the leaderships push to revise the voter-initiated statute. Republicans, including Gov. Mike DeWine (R), have insisted that voters were only supportive of the fundamental principle of legalizing marijuana without necessarily backing specific policies around issues such as tax revenue.

But while they’ve made that argument in the context of more incremental changes, the idea of eliminating home grow is likely to generate sizable pushback given its centrality to Issue 2. That could complicate its path to being enacted. An emergency clause would mean the bill would require a two-thirds vote instead of a simple majority to pass.

“The silver lining in my opinion of some of this, if we want to look at it that way, is that marijuana has always been operating in a black market, the sale of marijuana for some time,” Sen. Rob McColley (R), who described the proposed changes, said at the committee hearing on Monday. “This is an opportunity for Ohio, if done correctly, to try and stamp out that black market to the extent possible, and then also put a program in place to make sure that Ohioans have accessible, reasonable and safe marijuana products for their purchase.”

In addition to striking home cultivation, the legislation would increase the excise tax rate on marijuana sales from 10 percent to 15 percent at the point of sale, in addition to a 15 percent gross receipts tax on cultivators.

As approved by voters, the law would have directed marijuana tax revenue to go to social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).

The legislation that’s been attached to the revised bill would instead put 30 percent of revenue toward law enforcement training, 15 percent to substance misuse treatment, 10 percent to a safe driving initiative and the remainder to the state general fund.

It would cut the possession limit for adults from 2.5 ounces to one once. And it would reduce the THC limit from 35 percent for flower and 90 percent for extracts to 25 percent for flower and 50 percent for extracts.

Further, the legislation would add criminal penalties for public consumption, restrict marijuana advertising, reduce the cap on cannabis dispensaries from 350 to 230 and allow localities to ban marijuana cultivators in their borders.

“Let’s look at what we’ve seen so far before of what works. Let’s have the safe product,” Senate General Government Committee Chairman Michael Rulli (R) said at his panel’s hearing. “My only concern for this is I want a safe product. I want no fentanyl. I want no mold…I want the black market destroyed. The people have spoken; I want them to buy a quality product that is safe for consumption. That is the goal of this committee to provide the people’s wishes with the safe product.”

Sen. William DeMora (D) criticized the proposal from his Republican colleagues, saying, “from my mind, the voters’ intent is nowhere to be found in this—what I call a shell of what the voters passed.”

While he said was “willing” to have a conversation about potentially limiting the number of plants that adults could grow under the initiated statute, he said “more than half the people that voted for this voted because of home growth, and so taking that away from what the voters clearly wanted is something that I have huge problem with.”

The chairman said the public only had until 2:30pm ET on Monday to submit comment on the cannabis legislation—just hours after it was unveiled and moved through committee during the brief hearing. No additional public testimony will be accepted on Tuesday or Wednesday before a potential vote to send it to the floor.

“Almost two years after first receiving Issue 2’s language and after Ohio voters overwhelmingly passed it, some in the Ohio Senate propose to gut Issue 2’s most important provisions, including home grow and social equity, and to put in place higher taxes that will entrench the illicit market and force Ohioans to continue to buy their cannabis products in Michigan,” Tom Haren, spokesperson for the Issue 2 campaign, said on Monday. “This is not what voters wanted.”

“What’s more, they will apparently attempt to declare an ‘emergency’ and to pass this bill (crafted behind closed doors) in a rushed process designed to prevent meaningful input—all to subvert the will of Ohio voters,” he said. “But let’s be clear: the democratic process is not an emergency. Members of the Ohio Senate should shelve this proposal and instead implement the results of a free and fair election in accordance with their duties as public servants.”

“Voters deserve to have the core components of Issue 2 respected by their elected officials with any changes being made only after robust opportunity for debate and participation by the general public,” Haren said.

Unlike the Senate leader and governor, House Speaker Jason Stephens (R) has maintained that legislators should more thoughtfully address amendments to the initiated statute, even if that takes more time. He’s pointed out that changes to provisions on taxes and advertising, for example, wouldn’t become relevant until later next year given that regulators still need months to develop licensing rules before retailers open shop.

While some Democratic lawmakers have indicated that they may be amenable to certain revisions, such as putting certain cannabis tax revenue toward K-12 education, other supporters of the voter-passed legalization initiative are firmly against letting legislators undermine the will of the majority that approved it.

Ohio Rep. Juanita Brent (D) recently emphasized that people who’ve been criminalized over marijuana, as well as those with industry experience, should be involved in any efforts to amend the state’s voter-approved legalization law, arguing that it shouldn’t be left up to “anti-cannabis” legislators alone to revise the statute.

Meanwhile, Rep. Gary Click (R) filed legislation last week that would allow individual municipalities to locally ban the use and home cultivation of cannabis in their jurisdictions and also revise how state marijuana tax revenue would be distributed by, for example, reducing funds allocated to social equity and jobs programs and instead steering them toward law enforcement training.

Rep. Cindy Abrams (R) also introduced a bill last month that would revise the marijuana law by putting $40 million in cannabis tax dollars toward law enforcement training annually.

The Ohio Department of Commerce was quick to publish an FAQ guide for residents to learn about the new law and timeline for implementation, though regulators repeatedly noted that the policies may be subject to change depending on how the legislature acts.

Prohibitionist organizations that campaigned against Issue 2, meanwhile, are set on a fundamental undermining of the newly approved law, with some describing plans to pressure the legislature to entirely repeal legalization before it’s even implemented.

For what it’s worth, a number of Ohio lawmakers said in September that they doubted the legislature would seek to repeal a voter-passed legalization law. The Senate president affirmed repeal wasn’t part of the agenda, at least not in the next year.

Voters were only able to decide on the issue after lawmakers declined to take the opportunity to pass their own reform as part of the ballot qualification process. They were given months to enact legalization that they could have molded to address their outstanding concerns, but the legislature ultimately deferred to voters by default.

As early voting kicked off in late October, the GOP-controlled Senate passed a resolution urging residents to reject measure.

Unlike the top state Republican lawmakers, one of the state’s GOP representatives in Congress—Rep. Dave Joyce, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said in September that he would be voting in favor of the initiative in November. He encouraged “all Ohio voters to participate and make their voices heard on this important issue.”

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said in late October he voted in favor of the legalization ballot initiative, calling it a “hard decision” but one that was based on his belief that the reform would promote “safety” for consumers.

Meanwhile, Vivek Ramaswamy, a 2024 Republican presidential candidate, said he voted against a ballot initiative to legalize marijuana in Ohio because he’s concerned the federal government could “weaponize” criminalization against people who are engaged in state-legal cannabis activities under the “fake” pretense that they’re protected from federal prosecution.

Senate Majority Leader Chuck Schumer (D-NY), for his part, said recently that Ohio’s vote to legalize marijuana at the ballot is one of the latest examples of how Americans are rejecting “MAGA extremism,” and he added that he’s committed to continuing to work on a bipartisan basis “to keep moving on bipartisan cannabis legislation as soon as we can.”

Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, told Marijuana Moment that “the vote in Ohio was a great big exclamation point on the things we’ve been talking about.”

“We’ve been saying for years how this issue has crested, how it’s got broad momentum, how it is inclusive. It’s sort of like the success with the [Ohio abortion rights] issue—except this was more pronounced,” he said. “We got more votes than the abortion issue. We get more votes than anybody on the ballot.”

The White House has separately said that “nothing has changed” with President Joe Biden’s stance on marijuana, declining to say if he supports Ohio’s vote to legalize or whether he backs further reform of federal cannabis laws.

Meanwhile, as Ohio voters approved statewide legalization, activists also chalked up a series of little-noticed wins to decriminalize larger amounts of cannabis in three Ohio cities, according to preliminary county election results.

Read the text of the marijuana legalization amendment below:

New Bipartisan Wisconsin Bill Would Decriminalize Marijuana Possession

Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.

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