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Ohio marijuana legalization effort delayed until 2023, under settlement with state officials

by May 14, 2022Local News

A medical marijuana facility in Eastlake, seen here in a file photo. A group targeting a possible ballot issue to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio is delaying the effort until next year, under a legal settlement the it announced on Friday.

Buckeye Relief's 25,000-square-foot facility in Eastlake has been growing marijuana since July 31, 2020, making their plants the oldest in the state of Ohio. Since then, they have planted every three weeks with the intention to eventually harvest every three weeks.

Marijuana legalization will not be on the ballot for this November’s election in Ohio, under the terms of a settlement a group backing the effort said it reached Friday with state officials.

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol instead said it will delay its legalization campaign until 2023. In exchange, state officials have agreed to accept the more than 140,000 signatures the coalition already has collected, instead of potentially making them start over from scratch.

“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 coalition sued state officials earlier this month after Ohio House Republicans refused to take up the marijuana legalization law the group had proposed under a state mechanism called an initiated statute, through which members of the public can propose new laws. The House GOP said the group submitted its signatures too late to be considered during this year’s legislative session.

Under the initiated statute rules, the public can force lawmakers to take up a proposed law change if they can gather the needed number of signatures — currently 132,887 — from registered voters in at least 44 counties across the state. If lawmakers don’t enact the law as written within four months, backers of an initiated statute then can collect the same number of signatures again to force it onto the ballot for the following November’s election.

The problem was that the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol fell short by 13,062 signatures in the initial batch it submitted in December, after elections officials ruled more than 87,000 the group had collected were invalid.

The group gathered the additional needed signatures during a 10-day “cure” period, but by that point, the group had missed a late-December deadline to force the state legislature to take up the proposal this year.

So now, if the legislature doesn’t act on the marijuana legalization measure by April 2023, it will be on the November 2023 ballot, as long as the group can collect the second round of signatures it needs, a number set off turnout for the most recent state governor election.

The Republican-dominated legislature has signaled it has no appetite for legalizing recreational marijuana, making the ballot issue a likely focus.

The delay in the legalization effort could have implications for the November election for governor, U.S. Senate and other state and local races. Had it been on the ballot, a marijuana legalization proposal had the potential to mobilize voters supporting and opposing legalization, shaping the kinds of voters who would show up at the polls, and influencing the issues that candidates would talk about.

While backers of recreational marijuana typically have leaned liberal and libertarian, the issue recently has attracted broader support across the political spectrum.

Medical marijuana has been legal in Ohio since January 2019, in part due to a preliminary 2016 ballot campaign that spurred the legislature to action. A full legalization ballot issue failed overwhelmingly in 2015.

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