For years, Democratic lawmakers have mostly led the charge in pushing for marijuana legalization—but that seems to be changing of late. The latest example comes from a pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers who announced a new bill to legalize cannabis on Tuesday, a move that comes as activists are collecting signatures to put a cannabis initiative on the state’s ballot next year.
While polling has shown that marijuana reform is increasingly a bipartisan issue with voters, that attitude hasn’t been largely reflected in state legislatures across the U.S., or in Congress. But this month alone, new legalization legislation is being championed by GOP lawmakers in Pennsylvania and now Ohio.
There have also been a handful of Republican-led pushes to enact cannabis policy changes earlier in 2021 sessions, everywhere from New Hampshire to Missouri, with GOP members either sponsoring their own legislation or joining Democrats on bipartisan reform bills.
On Tuesday, Ohio Rep. Jamie Callender (R) held a press conference to unveil his new proposal, which would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess marijuana. The bill, whose chief cosponsor is another Republican lawmaker, Rep. Ron Ferguson, would provide regulations for the licensing of cannabis growers, distributors and retailers.
Adults “should be able to make decisions for themselves, and that’s what this bill does,” Callendar said at Tuesday’s press conference.
“I just think it’s nonsensical that we treat alcohol and marijuana differently,” he said. “It’s about personal freedom, it’s about moving the state and the country forward. It’s about going where people are going anyway.”
Limited home cultivation would be allowed, and half of revenue resulting from a 10 percent tax on adult-use marijuana sales under the bill would go to the state’s general revenue fund with the other half being divided between law enforcement and mental health and addiction treatment and recovery services. Medical cannabis would remain untaxed.
The state Department of Commerce would oversee the recreational marijuana program, and the legislation would allow existing medical cannabis businesses to enter the adult-use market while also creating a process to license new operators.
“This is an issue of individual rights, and there is strong public support for responsible laws allowing those 21 and over to legally purchase and use marijuana and marijuana products,” Ferguson said in a press release. “We believe it’s important that Ohio’s adult-use program be secure and responsible, from seed to sale.”
Callender said that although Republican legislative leaders and Gov. Mike DeWine (R) are not yet on board, “there is more bipartisan support than most people would think,” he said.
“Leadership in both chambers has expressed their skepticism—we’ll say in a polite way—but they’re giving us the chance to explain and advocate as to why this is the right policy [and] why it’s right to do it now before the federal government does it and it becomes a free for all.”
House Speaker Robert Cupp (R) laughed when he was asked about Callender’s legislation earlier on Tuesday, adding, “Let’s just see where it goes. I haven’t read it yet.”
See Cupp’s comments, around 1:25 into the video below:
PART 1: @SpeakerCupp on why today’s hearing was not allowed to be recorded, the latest on HB 435, the GOP medical marijuana bill and redistricting. @SpectrumNews1OH pic.twitter.com/k8xmLtlwjU
— Josh Rultenberg (@JoshRultNews) October 12, 2021
Callender and Ferguson are circulating a cosponsorship memo to build support for the forthcoming legislation and are aiming to formally file the bill within the next six weeks or so.
“The time is right to do this, and this is the right vehicle to do that,” Callender said. “This is the responsible way to legalize marijuana.”
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The legislation also contains provisions to expunge prior cannabis records and remove restrictions on participation in the legal industry by people with past convictions.
Representatives of two current medical cannabis businesses spoke in support of the new legislative push at Tuesday’s press conference.
Callender and Ferguson said that one outstanding issue in negotiations to finalize the bill is whether it will institute licensing caps.
Advocates are encouraged to see GOP legislators finally embrace marijuana legalization, as building bipartisan buy-in could be key to getting a policy change enacted in historically conservative states where reform has stalled.
Pennsylvania is a good example of that. A Republican state senator and former federal law enforcement agent announced last week that he will be filing a bill to legalize marijuana in the state—and he’s asking his colleagues to join him in the effort. He’s the second GOP senator in the state to announce support for legalizing cannabis this year.
Separately, a GOP member of the Pennsylvania House filed a bill last week that’s meant to promote research into the therapeutic potential of psilocybin mushrooms for mental health conditions such as post-traumatic stress disorder
In both Ohio and Pennsylvania, marijuana reform has been a hard sell in Republican-controlled legislatures. But both Republicans and Democrats in those and other states seem to be recognizing not just the bipartisan popularity of legalization among their constituents but the economic potential a regulated cannabis market could represent.
In July, Democratic lawmakers in Ohio formally introduced a bill to legalize marijuana possession, production and sales—the first effort of its kind in the state legislature.
Activists have also recently been cleared to begin signature gathering for a 2022 ballot initiative to legalize cannabis. If supporters collect 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters, the legislature will then have four months to adopt the measure, reject it or adopt and amended version. If lawmakers do not pass the proposal, organizers will then need to collect an additional 132,887 signatures to place the proposal before voters on the ballot during next year’s midterm election.
Callendar said that he’s not necessarily opposed to enacting legalization through a ballot measure, but “there’s a strong argument that the legislature [should be] taking the initiative and doing it.”
Meanwhile, voters in more than a dozen Ohio municipalities will separately decide on ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana next month. At least one city police department seems less than enthused about the reform, posting and then deleting a press release that warned of a societal “downhill tumble” that could result from the modest reform.
Again, what makes these latest legislative pushes in Ohio, Pennsylvania and elsewhere notable is the fact that they show a narrowing of the marijuana policy divide between Republican and Democratic lawmakers.
Medical cannabis legalization is at this point fairly uncontroversial in state legislatures, but GOP members have frequently expressed opposition to going further than providing patients access with the plant by legalizing it for recreational use.
Whether the growing bipartisan sentiment around the issue will reach Congress this session is yet to be seen. Democrats are leading bills to end federal cannabis prohibition in both chambers, and they will need to garner at least some Republican voters to get either of the bills to President Joe Biden’s desk.
Biden, however, remains opposed to adult-use legalization while state GOP lawmakers are increasingly pursuing the reform. But he has voiced support for letting states set their own marijuana policies.
A slim majority of Republicans said in a 2020 poll that they back an earlier version of a legalization bill that passed the House.
Read the cosponsorship memo on the forthcoming Ohio marijuana legalization bill below:
To: House Members & Staff
From: State Representative Jamie Callender and State Representative Ron Ferguson
Date: October 12, 2021
Re: Co-Sponsorship Request – Ohio Adult-Use Act
We will soon be introducing legislation to legalize marijuana in Ohio for Ohioans 21 and over.
This legislation, the Ohio Adult-Use Act, will:
· Legalize marijuana and marijuana products for Ohioans 21 and over that possess a valid ID,
· Establish a strong regulatory framework for the growth, processing, distribution and sale of marijuana and marijuana products,
· Implement a 10% sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products with funding dedicated to combat chemical dependence and illegal drug trafficking, and support the state General Revenue Fund.
The legislation will accomplish this through the expansion of Ohio’s existing Medical Marijuana Control Program to include adult-use of cannabis products.
Across America, state legislatures are actively discussing proposals to decriminalize marijuana, create medical marijuana programs, and fully legalize the sale and possession of cannabis products. Nearly a third of states have authorized recreational adult-use, including four this year: Connecticut, New Mexico, New York, and Virginia. Simultaneously, federal efforts to de-schedule marijuana are gaining traction.
The Ohio Adult-Use Act builds on best practices from around the country and creates a structure that puts Ohio ahead of the curve on cannabis regulations. While other states will be rushing to regulate once marijuana is de-scheduled by the federal government, Ohio will already be positioned to protect the public health and receive the greatest possible benefits offered by legalization.
Some of the main provisions of this legislation include:
– Extending Ohio’s existing medical marijuana program to oversee the growth, processing, and distribution of marijuana and marijuana products to Ohioans age 21 and over.
– Ensuring that any marijuana sold in Ohio is grown, processed, and distributed in this state.
– Building on the existing medical marijuana control framework to ensure juveniles and other Ohioans under the age of 21 are barred from access to marijuana products.
– Requiring tight controls in the marijuana cultivation and distribution processes to assure a high standard of quality and safety with the Department of Commerce in charge of compliance.
– Preventing the State of Ohio from discriminating against individuals engaged in legal, adult-use of marijuana who are seeking licensure from the state without jeopardizing employer choice or worker safety.
– Urging Congress to enact H.R. 3105 of the 117th Congress sponsored by Congressman Dave Joyce, which allows for the reasonable de-scheduling of marijuana and encouraging them to recognize the 2nd amendment rights of Ohioans who legally use cannabis products in Ohio.
The Ohio Adult-Use Act is a responsible approach that will prepare Ohio for the many changes expanded marijuana access and adult-use will bring. Please join us in supporting this proposal.
If you are interested in co-sponsoring this legislation or have any questions, please contact us at [email protected] or [email protected] by close of business on October 22nd, 2021.
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