Ohio Republican lawmakers propose legal pot

Oct. 12—COLUMBUS — Even as a petition effort seeks to force the Ohio General Assembly's hand, a pair of Republican state lawmakers on Tuesday rolled out a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio.

"This is something whose time has come," Ohio Rep. Jamie Callender (R., Concord), who is introducing the bill with Ohio Rep. Ron Ferguson (R., Wintersville), said.

"We've had another four states go with adult use in the last 18 months, so it's moving and it's moving fast...," Mr. Callender said. "We know what they've done right. We know where they've fallen short."

When introduced, the proposal will join a Democratic plan already pending in the House, but any measure legalizing recreational marijuana is still considered an uphill battle. Gov. Mike DeWine and Republican leadership in both chambers are not on board.

Ohio House Speaker Bob Cupp (R., Lima) "is generally unfavorable to recreational use," Mr. Callender said.

"However, he does read the tea leaves and he's giving us a chance to prove that this is a reasonable option," he said.

The bill would allow individuals to grow up to six plants, only two of which can be blooming at a time, for personal use or for sharing with other members of the household age who are 21 and older. Individuals could not sell marijuana. Individuals could possess up to five ounces for personal use.

It would build on the existing medical marijuana infrastructure of cultivators, processors, testing laboratories, and dispensaries to handle the increased demand while giving existing licensees the inside track on expanding their offerings.

In some respects, it's similar to a proposed law that is the subject of a petition effort by a group calling itself the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. Supporters are gathering signatures for a proposed law that would also allow those 21 and older to smoke marijuana and grow a limited amount for personal use.

The Callender-Ferguson proposal would impose a 10 percent sales tax on product.

Twenty-five percent of the revenue generated would go to law enforcement and another 25 percent to mental health and addiction treatment. The remaining half would go into the general budget without earmark.

The bill would allow for the expungement of past convictions for marijuana-related offenses that would no longer be crimes. It would also prohibit denial of licenses for marijuana-related businesses to individuals with marijuana-related criminal records as occurs now with the medical program.

The bill's supporters hope to introduce it by Thanksgiving.

Meanwhile, the petition effort faces a late December deadline to have its bill sitting on lawmakers' desks in January. If the Ohio General Assembly doesn't act to the group's satisfaction, a similar number of signatures could be gathered in a second round to put the question directly to voters on the November 2022 ballot.

Tom Haren, spokesman for the petition effort, said the bill's introduction shows that the issue has bipartisan support. He said the group is willing to work with lawmakers, one of the reasons it is pursuing an initiated statute rather than a constitutional amendment.

"It also affirms our sense of urgency to address this issue now," he said. "Legalization of marijuana for adults is a priority of congressional leadership as well as the Biden administration. It's imperative that Ohioans control our own approach to legalization. Otherwise, our legislators will leave the decision up to politicians in Washington DC."

Nineteen other states, including neighboring Michigan, have legalized marijuana for recreational use.

A pair of Ohio House Democrats — Ohio Reps. Casey Weinstein (D., Hudson) and Terrence Upchurch (D., Cleveland) — had already introduced their own vision of legalized marijuana, Ohio House Bill 382.

But no legalization bill can become law without significant buy-in of a majority of Republicans and Mr. DeWine, a Republican.

Ohio lawmakers voted to legalize cannabis for medical use only in 2016.

Voters had a chance to approve a broad legalization measure the year before, but it was defeated handily.