The lack of action on adult-use cannabis laws in Ohio is currently easing concerns within the industry about potentially significant revisions to the law, such as the abolition of a social equity program and a de facto ban on concentrated cannabis. Politicians from both parties agreed to address Issue 2 on Election Day, but recent disagreements between members of the General Assembly have left many questioning when progress will be made.
Last-Minute Changes to Issue 2 by State Senate Draw Criticism
Some of the proposed adjustments to Issue 2 by the state Senate – which include new restrictions on home cultivation, increased criminal penalties, higher taxes, and removal of social equity provisions – have led to alarm among industry players and social justice advocates alike. However, House Speaker Jason Stephens has announced that there will be no vote on any marijuana-related bill before the Assembly resumes business after the holiday break.
Disagreements Among Lawmakers Cause Delays
Democratic House Minority Leader C. Allison Russo explained one reason for these delays is disagreement among lawmakers in both the House and the Senate, as well as with the governor, regarding key issues tied to adult-use cannabis legalization. Many remain unsure whether lawmakers will take action on this issue when they return to Columbus in January or if the current status quo will persist longer.
Legalization Pushbacks Lead to the Growth of Illicit Markets
As states struggle to legalize adult-use recreational cannabis, illicit markets often thrive at the expense of licensed operators. According to Trent Woloveck, Chief Strategy Director at Jushi Holdings, “The longer you have legal possession without legal procurement, the illicit market proliferates rapidly.” Jushi is one of several large multi-state cannabis companies urging Ohio lawmakers to expedite adult-use sales at existing medical marijuana dispensaries before next fall.
State Senate’s Compromise Plan Receives Criticism
Some industry experts balk at the state Senate’s latest compromise plan for Issue 2, arguing that it still falls short of adequately addressing concerns with proposed bans on home grows and the elimination of social equity provisions. Attorney Tom Haren, who represented the Issue 2 campaign, has criticized this new proposal as diverging from competing legislation in the House and stated that it unfairly limits voters’ ability to express their opinions on the issue.
Timing Remains Uncertain for Legalization Progress in Ohio
While many are eager to see Ohio legalize adult-use cannabis, lawmaking efforts may be delayed even as some speculations suggest that legislators could take action as late as April next year or not at all. Moreover, House Speaker Stephens has expressed no intent to rush adult-use legislation, leaving industry members uncertain about when they can expand into recreational markets in the state.
The Importance of Sticking to the Original Proposal
Many major operators in the cannabis space call for a final law adhering to the original vision of Issue 2 but with an accelerated timeline towards legalization. In the words of Kate Nelson from Acreage Holdings, “Staying true to what the voters wanted is crucial.”
What Awaits Existing Medical Marijuana Ops in Ohio?
Though Ohio’s highly regulated medical marijuana program theoretically should make a smooth transition for operators into the adult-use marketplace, everything remains uncertain until the governor signs a concrete proposal.
As the future of adult-use cannabis legalization in Ohio remains unclear, industry stakeholders and social justice advocates alike will be keeping a close eye on how lawmakers navigate these contentious issues in the coming months. Ultimately, doing right by the voters while also ensuring a fair, robust market for operators is paramount.