Cannabis activists in Ohio have reached a settlement to move a vote on legalizing recreational cannabis to next year, ending a controversy over a deadline to collect signatures from voters supporting the proposal. Under the terms of the agreement reached with state officials on Friday, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol will retain the more than 140,000 signatures collected for this year’s effort and avoid having to repeat the process for the 2023 election.
“This guarantees the validity of the signatures we’ve already gathered, and we’ve got a much clearer path if we have to get to the ballot next year,” said Tom Haren, a spokesman for the coalition.
The group seeking to legalize cannabis for use by adults in Ohio sued Republican legislative leaders earlier this month after they refused to consider a proposal to legalize recreational cannabis signed by more than 140,000 voters. The agreement reached between state officials and activists last week will move a vote on the proposal to next year.
The proposal from the Coalition 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 grow up to six cannabis plants at home, with a cap of 12 plants per household.
The measure would also establish a 10% tax on sales of cannabis products. Revenue raised by cannabis taxes would be allocated to administering the program and to local governments in cities and towns that choose to host recreational cannabis dispensaries. Taxes would also be used to fund substance abuse programs and a social equity and jobs program.
Ohio Activists Submitted More Than 140,000 Signatures
In December, the coalition submitted petitions with more than 200,000 signatures, far exceeding the 132,887 necessary to send the proposal to the state legislature for consideration. But in January, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose’s office announced that fewer 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. The added signatures were enough to meet the minimum threshold required, according to a letter 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% 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,” the secretary of state continued in his letter. “I hereby certify that the part-petitions contained a total of 136,729 valid signatures submitted on behalf of the proposed statewide initiative petition.”
Under Ohio state law, petitioners for proposed ballot measures must submit signatures at least 10 days before the legislative session begins. Lawmakers then have four months to act on the proposal. The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol submitted its signatures on January 28, which would establish a May 28 deadline for lawmakers to act on the petition.
Legalization Effort Challenged By GOP Leaders
But lawyers for Republican legislators argued that the petition should have been submitted and approved 10 days before the start of the legislation. Under that scenario, legalization activists missed the deadline, leading GOP legislative leaders to argue that the petition should not be considered until 2023. According to emails filed with the campaign’s lawsuit filed in Franklin County, Attorney General Dave Yost’s office appeared to agree with the Republican legal counsel’s analysis.
Activists with the cannabis legalization campaign sued Republican leaders, contending that the submission of signatures to LaRose’s office on January 28 fulfilled the legal deadline for the legalization petition. The legal action asked 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 had succeeded, activists would then have had until early July to collect additional signatures to qualify the proposal for this year’s general election in November.
The agreement reached last week brings an end to the controversy over the deadline to submit signatures and moves the vote to legalize recreational cannabis in Ohio to 2023.
“We are delighted to have reached this settlement, which has preserved our initial signatures, provided the General Assembly with a second opportunity to consider the proposed statute, and established a clear path to ballot access in 2023,” Haren said in a statement from the campaign. “To be certain: we aren’t going anywhere and are undeterred in our goal to legalize cannabis for all adults in Ohio.”