Ohio House Speaker Still In No Rush To Change Voter-Approved Marijuana Legalization Law

“It’s a complex issue… Our priority right now is having those thorough discussions as there was a long runway for this issue, so we still have some time to do that.”

By Megan Henry, Ohio Capital Journal

Lawmakers have yet to bring changes to Ohio’s new marijuana law over the finish line.

The Ohio Senate passed a bill in December with major changes to the marijuana law, but the Ohio House, once again, did not bring that bill to the floor to concur during Wednesday’s session and has not moved its own bill.

“It’s a complex issue,” Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, told reporters Tuesday.

Marijuana has been legal in Ohio since December after Ohioans passed Issue 2 in November—prompting lawmakers in both chambers to come up with legislation to tweak the current law.

Issue 2 was a citizen initiative, meaning Ohio lawmakers can propose and pass modifications to the new law after the election.

Ohioans can’t legally purchase marijuana yet, but they can grow their own—six plants per person with 12 plants per residence.

Issue 2 created the Division of Cannabis Control within the Ohio Department of Commerce, which expects to complete the rulemaking process for non-medical cannabis licensing applications by June 7 and plans to start giving provisional licenses for non-medical cannabis facilities by September 7, Jamie Crawford, PIO of the Ohio Department of Commerce, said in an email.

Sales of recreational marijuana can’t happen until licenses are issued and facilities are certified.

Issue 2 also creates five funds in the state treasury: the adult use tax fund, the cannabis social equity and jobs fund, the host community cannabis fund, the substance abuse and addiction fund and the division of cannabis control and tax commissioner fund.

“Issue 2 puts in place a full regulatory framework… We don’t need the legislature to do anything,” said Tom Haren, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

Stephens said there are two main issues with the marijuana law they need to tackle—setting up the business structure of who gets a dispensary license and how the tax revenue is going to work.

“That’s where we are in our discussions and our priority right now is having those thorough discussions as there was a long runway for this issue, so we still have some time to do that,” Stephens said.

House Bill 86

State Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, introduced changes to the state’s marijuana law that were later added to House Bill 86—even though that bill originally had nothing to do with marijuana. State Rep. Jeff LaRe, R-Violet Twp., introduced HB 86, which would revise the state’s liquor control laws.

Under HB 86, the marijuana tax rate would go up to 15 percent—an increase from Issue 2’s 10 percent tax at the point of sale for each transaction. The bill would also allow for local governments and local counties to levy an additional tax on top of the marijuana excise tax of 3 percent. A higher tax rate means a higher price for consumers.

What’s now HB 86 would limit home grow to six plants per household and give automatic expungements for those with possession of amounts of 2.5 ounces or less.

Ohioans 21 and older could go to a dispensary and buy recreational products once HB 86 went into effect.

If HB 86 were to pass the House, it would take effect 90 days after Gov. Mike DeWine (R) signs the bill. DeWine urged lawmakers back in December to pass HB 86 so he can sign it into law, saying this would stamp out the black market.

House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, said she expects the Ohio House will address some of the marijuana legislation when the House resumes in April.

“I think that everyone agrees that there are certain aspects of this legislation that weren’t adequately addressed in Issue 2, and we’ve talked about many different components,” she said. “I think there’s a lot of agreement on some things and then still many discussions that need to be had about other aspects.”

The next scheduled House Session is April 10, so even if the House were to pass the bill then, HB 86 wouldn’t go into effect until July.

“It’s been unfortunate to see some members of the General Assembly so quickly try to subvert the will of the voters through House Bill 86, for instance,” Haren said. “But I’m encouraged the House is obviously taking a much more deliberate approach.”

This is how the revenue funds would be distributed under HB 86:

  • 28 percent to the county jail construction fund.
  • 19 percent to the Department of Public Safety law enforcement training fund, or 16% if the marijuana expungement fund has ceased to exist.
  • 14 percent to the Attorney General law enforcement training fund.
  • 11 percent to the substance abuse, treatment, and prevention fund, or 9% if the marijuana expungement fund has ceased to exist.
  • 9 percent to the 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline fund.
  • 5 percent to the marijuana receipts drug law enforcement fund.
  • 5 percent to the marijuana expungement fund.
  • 5 percent to the safe driver training fund.
  • 4 percent to the Ohio Investigative Unit Operations fund.
  • 3 percent to the Division of Marijuana Control Operations fund.
  • 2 percent to the marijuana poison control fund.

House Bill 354

State Rep. Jamie Callender, R-Concord, introduced House Bill 354 in December which clarifies some of Issue 2’s language. The bill has had two hearings so far in the House Finance Committee.

It would keep home grow the same under Issue 2, clarifying that home grow must take place at a residential address.

This is how the tax revenue would be distributed under HB 354:

  • 36 percent to the host community cannabis fund.
  • 36 percent to the cannabis social equity and jobs fund.
  • 12.5 percent of the substance abuse and addiction fund would go into Ohio’s 988 Suicide & Crisis Lifeline fund to administer the 988 system.
  • 10 percent of the substance abuse and addiction fund would provide mental health and addiction services in county jails.
  • 3 percent to the operations of the Division of Marijuana Control and Department of Taxation.
  • 2.5 percent to the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services to develop the state’s mental health workforce.

This story was first published by Ohio Capital Journal.

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Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.

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