Ohio votes to legalize recreational cannabis

Ohio has voted to legalize recreational cannabis, becoming the 24th state to decriminalize the possession of certain amounts.
Posted at 9:18 AM, Nov 07, 2023

Eight years after Ohioans soundly rejected a referendum to legalize cannabis, pot proponents were once again asking voters for their support at the ballot box — and this time, their effort was a success. 

Ohio voters have chosen to legalize recreational cannabis, making the state the 24th to decriminalize the possession of certain amounts by passing Issue 2 in Tuesday's election.

Issue 2 was one of two major referendums before voters in Ohio on Tuesday, with Issue 1 — abortion rights —coming in as the other big decision on ballots across the state.    

Tuesday's ballot initiative allows Ohioans over age 21 to possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis without penalty. It also permits Ohioans to grow the plant species at home. 

Tom Haren, a spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, said on Tuesday, "This was a landslide victory for Issue 2. Ohioans spoke loud, they spoke clear. They want marijuana regulated like alcohol."

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In 2015, more than 63% of voters across the state rejected a proposal to legalize recreational cannabis. In addition to legalizing the possession of certain amounts of cannabis, the 2015 proposal wanted to only allow ten predetermined locations to grow the plants for commercial use. 

Haren said, "There were some problems with the 2015 initiative that were sort of baked into how it was framed. We avoided all of that, by crafting a best in class regulatory framework, in the way the we designed Issue 2. But, also, look, Ohioans have now been to states that have been regulating marijuana like alcohol for 10 years now. They've seen that these programs generate hundreds of millions of dollars in new tax revenue. They see that these programs protect public health by ensuring consumers are buying regulated products that are tested, they know exactly what the potency is."

Haren said that he believes adult use programs give medical patients the access that they cannot get, even in states with successful medical cannabis programs. 

Under standing Ohio law going into the election, the possession of small amounts of cannabis had been considered a minor misdemeanor. 

Proponents said the proposal comes with rigorous government oversight, while ending a black market for the sale of the plant and products made from it. From 2017 until 2019, 15% of Ohioans reported using cannabis for various reasons, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

In the official opposition to the proposal, state Sens. Terry Johnson and Mark Romanchuk — along with State Rep. William Seitz — said Issue 2 "legalizes an addiction-for-profit industry." 

Ohio legalized the consumption of cannabis and cannabis products for medical purposes in 2016.

An October poll from Baldwin Wallace University indicated that a majority of likely voters supported Issue 2 to permit its use for recreational purposes as well. The poll showed 57% of likely Ohio voters were in favor of Issue 2, including 66% of Democrats and 50% of Republicans. 

Unlike Issue 1 — which is a constitutional amendment that can only be changed by voters — Issue 2 merely changes Ohio's Revised Code. Lawmakers could still make changes to the state's cannabis law.

Getting on the ballot was easier for cannabis proponents than for abortion rights advocates. Issue 2 needed signatures from 3% of electors from the 2022 gubernatorial election to reach the ballot. Issue 1 required signatures equaling 10% of last year's gubernatorial vote.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, 23 other states and the District of Columbia also permit recreational cannabis use. Fifteen states permit the use of cannabis for medical purposes only.