Is Ohio ready for recreational marijuana?

Get ready for another battle over legalizing recreational marijuana in Ohio. Voters statewide rejected a measure to legalize it 2015 and now the issue is back with two new proposals.

The group “Coalition To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol” is working on a petition effort to place the issue before voters. It comes just as two Cleveland area state lawmakers have introduced a bill to legalize recreational pot, tax it and regulate the industry to allow sales and home grow operations on a small scale.

Co-sponsor of the bill, Rep. Casey Weinstein, D- Hudson, told WHIO-TV that they took the best of existing legislation currently in other places like Washington State. He touted the financial benefits of legalizing it.

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“Hundreds of millions of dollars, in Washington, $1.1 billion, going back to communities that are hosting dispensaries. For K-12 schools and veterans’ programs. So, there’s many facets of good news and angles to take in this,” Weinstein said.

The measure has a social justice aspect to it, according to the other co-sponsor, Rep. Terrence Upchurch, D- Cleveland. He said decriminalizing marijuana for personal use makes sense.

“There are people right now in my district, I represent one of the most impoverished districts, predominantly African-American, that can’t get student loans, can’t get jobs and those low-level convictions are 30 years old. There are convictions that are preventing them from getting back into society and being productive citizens,” Upchurch said.

The Ohio Attorney General recently approved the petition language for the statewide petition drive. While the signature collection process for the ballot issue is just getting started and the legalization bill, HB 382, is awaiting a hearing in the Ohio House, critics are already organizing to fight both measures.

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Fran Gerbig is the Executive Director of the Prevention Action Alliance, a statewide anti-drug organization that has been tracking the advancement of both efforts to legalize pot. She calls both proposals very bad ideas.

“It is not in the public’s best interest to legalize a substance that we know has so many dangers attached to it. We know the risks it poses to young people, to the developing brain, to public safety risks, accidental poisoning, increased accidents because of impaired driving,” Gerbig said.

Although Ohio has resisted calls to legalize recreational marijuana like some other states, it has allowed highly regulated medical marijuana sales. A recent report from the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program said since medical pot dispensaries opened in 2019, sales statewide have totaled $523.3 million