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Ohio Cannabis Legalization Vote Pushed Back to 2023

Ohio cannabis activists have settled a dispute over the deadline for collecting signatures of supporters to allow a vote to legalize recreational marijuana. 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.

Following the refusal of Republican lawmakers to accept a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana signed by over 140,000 Ohioans, the group trying to legalize Ohio’s cannabis use for adults sued them. Last week, activists and state officials reached an agreement that will allow for a vote to be moved forward next year.

Coalition to Regulate Marijuana as Alcohol proposes that Ohioans 21 years and older can possess and buy up to 2.5 ounces cannabis, and up to 15 grams cannabis concentrates. A maximum of six adult cannabis plants would be allowed at home.

A 10% tax would be added to the sales of marijuana products. The program’s administration and local government in the cities or towns hosting recreational marijuana dispensaries would receive revenue from cannabis taxes. The taxes would be used for funding substance abuse programs as well as a program to promote social equity and job creation.

Ohio Signatures from Activists Exceed 140,000

The coalition filed petitions that contained more than 200k signatures in December. This was far beyond the required 132,887 to submit the proposed legislation to the legislature. 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.

For verification purposes, nearly 33,000 additional signatures were submitted by activists to the state. According to LaRose’s late January letter, the additional signatures met the required minimum threshold.

“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.”

Ohio law requires that petitioners seeking to amend the ballot must sign their petitions no later than 10 days prior to the start of the legislative session. The lawmakers have then four months to decide on the matter. Coalition to Regulate Medical Marijuana as Alcohol has signed the petition on January 28. This would set a May 28 deadline to allow lawmakers to address the petition.

Republican Leaders Challenge Legalization

However, lawyers representing Republican legislators claimed that the petition should not have been submitted or approved more than 10 days before legislation was started. Legalization activists failed to meet the deadline. This led GOP legislators to claim that the petition shouldn’t be reviewed 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. According to the lawsuit, the court was asked to declare that the campaign had followed the procedure and to allow cannabis legalization efforts to continue in this year’s. 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.

Last week’s agreement ended the debate over when signatures were due and moved the Ohio vote for legalizing recreational marijuana 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.”