Ohio Activists Sue GOP Leaders Over Cannabis Legalization Ballot Question

Ohio cannabis activists have filed a lawsuit against GOP leaders in the state legislature, who are attempting to block a cannabis legalization initiative from appearing on the ballot for the 2022 general election.

Ohio cannabis activists have filed a lawsuit against Republican leaders in the state legislature, alleging that they are attempting to thwart a cannabis legalization ballot question from appearing before voters in the November general election. Members of the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol filed the action on Friday against House Speaker Bob Cupp and Senate President Matt Huffman, claiming the legislative leaders are improperly trying to delay the ballot question until next year.

The proposal from the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol would allow adults 21 and older in Ohio to possess and purchase up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and up to 15 grams of cannabis concentrates. Adults would also be permitted to legally cultivate up to six cannabis plants at home, with a cap of 12 plants per household.

The measure would also levy a 10% tax on sales of cannabis products. Revenue raised by cannabis taxes would be dedicated to administering the program and to cities and towns with cannabis dispensaries. Taxes would also fund substance abuse programs and a social equity and jobs program.

More Than 135,000 Signed Petitions To Legalize Cannabis in Ohio

At the end of last year, the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alchohol submitted petitions with more than 200,000 signatures, significantly more than the 132,887 necessary to send the proposal to lawmakers for consideration. But in January, the secretary of state’s office announced that less than 120,000 of the signatures had been verified as registered voters.

Activists then submitted nearly 30,000 additional signatures to state officials for verification. Those signatures were enough to meet the minimum threshold required, according to a letter from Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose sent in late January.

“The initial part-petitions contained 119,825 valid signatures on behalf of the proposed statewide initiative of the total signatures submitted, signatures from 51 counties were submitted that met or exceeded 1.5 percent of the total number of votes cast for governor in the respective counties at the last gubernatorial election,” Larose wrote in a letter posted online by Northeast Ohio Media Group.

“The additional part-petitions contained 16,904 valid signatures on behalf of the proposed statewide initiative,” he continued. “I hereby certify that the part-petitions contained a total of 136,729 valid signatures submitted on behalf of the proposed statewide initiative petition.”

GOP Lawmakers Challenge Timeliness of Petition

Under Ohio state law, petitioners for proposed ballot measures must submit signatures at least 10 days before the legislative session. Lawmakers then have four months to act on the proposal. The Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol submitted its signatures on January 28, which would translate to a May 28 deadline for lawmakers to act on the petition.

But lawyers for GOP legislators have argued that a petition must be submitted and approved 10 days before the start of the legislation. Under that interpretation, legalization activists missed the deadline, leading legislative leaders to suggest the petition will not be considered until 2023. According to emails filed with the campaign’s lawsuit filed in Franklin County on Friday, Attorney General Dave Yost’s office seemed to agree with the GOP legal counsel’s analysis.

The lawsuit by the Campaign to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol contends that the submission of signatures to LaRose’s office on January 28 fulfilled the legal deadline for the legalization petition. The legal action asks the court to rule that the campaign has complied with the process and permit the cannabis legalization effort to continue this year. If the suit is successful, activists would then have until early July to collect additional signatures to qualify the proposal for the November general election.

A spokesperson for LaRose declined to comment on the legal action, according to a report from The Columbus Dispatch. Spokesmen for Huffman and Cupp did not immediately respond to a questions submitted by the newspaper.

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