Dueling proposals emerging to alter Ohio marijuana law going into effect Thursday

Issue 2, widely approved by voters, goes into effect Thursday

Ohio lawmakers are scrambling to make changes to the adult recreational marijuana law approved by 57% of voters in November.

But with the law set to go into effect Thursday, there’s disagreement among Senate and House Republicans regarding what specific changes to make.

On Tuesday, Northeast Ohio Rep. Jamie Callender, R-Concord, became the fourth lawmaker to propose changes to the marijuana law passed in November as Issue 2. Callender, a pro-marijuana Republican, said he believes his proposal stays truest to the will of the voters.

“We’ve worked with a lot of members, a lot of folks in the industry, a lot of supporters and a lot of opponents over the last few years. And what (House Bill 354) is, is a synthesis of all of those opinions, trying to take into account all the different positions on the issue, while very much respecting the will of the voters,” Callender told reporters Tuesday after his bill was referred to the House Finance Committee, which will hold its first hearing on the bill Wednesday.

If H.B. 354 were to pass, it would retain Issue 2′s home-grow provisions, allowing six marijuana plants per person limited to 12 plants per household; maintain its possession limits of 2.5 ounces of marijuana; and uphold the statute’s maximum limits on THC concentration.

H.B. 354 also proposes notable changes to Issue 2. It would enact an effective 20% tax — 10% wholesale and 10% excise — paid for by consumers at the point of sale. Those figures do not include state and local sales taxes. It would also make slight tweaks to where the tax revenue would go.

The voter-approved tax rate in Issue 2 was effectively 10%, not including state and local sales taxes.

The bill also proposes strict advertising restrictions on content aimed at minors; explicitly states that preexisting public and private smoking bans will apply to marijuana consumption; and takes additional steps to prevent home-growers from illegally selling the product.

Leading Senate proposal

The Senate unveiled a plan Monday that would make more drastic changes.

The chamber’s plan, brought forth by Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napoleon, floats eliminating home grow; creating an effective 30% tax rate; decreasing the legal maximum potency of legal marijuana; and decreasing the amount of marijuana an individual can legally possess. It also suggests various changes to how the tax revenue would be distributed.

The proposal was tacked on to unrelated legislation House Bill 86 in the Senate General Finance Committee along party lines Monday before hearing its first public testimony Tuesday, featuring industry advocates and marijuana opponents alike.

Matt Close, the executive director of the Ohio Cannabis Coalition, told the committee that his organization welcomes the legislature’s attempt to revise Issue 2 and put in necessary guardrails for the industry, including clear cut protections for children.

But, Close said, the legislature has to ensure that its regulations — and more specifically its tax rates — will not take away from the end goal of Ohio’s recreational market, which is to curtail the black market dealers and out-of-state spending on recreational marijuana in states like Michigan. Close said in order to keep Ohio competitive, tax rates on marijuana sales need to be closer to 10%, as passed in Issue 2, than the Senate’s proposed 30% rate.

Mike Getlin, a representative of medicinal dispensary operator Nectar Markets of Ohio, advised the legislature to continue workshopping robust fixes for Ohio’s burgeoning recreational market, but also urged the committee to pass quick fixes for some potential problems he sees with Thursday’s legalization of possession. Principally, his concern was about Ohioans would get weed once possession is legal.

“We cannot allow legalization without legal paths to purchase. If we do, we will simply supercharge criminal operators with massive cash infusions while we do the granular detail work of building out an adult use program,” Getlin said. “Luckily, you already have a highly sophisticated and regulated legal distribution system in Ohio’s medical marijuana program. We must allow adults 21 years of age and older with valid, state-issued identification to purchase limited amounts of adult use cannabis from medical dispensaries, with or without medical cards.”

Other testifiers staunchly supported H.B. 86′s provisions, including Aubree Adams, director of her own nonprofit Every Brain Matters, who applauded the committee for amending the bill to no longer allow home grow.

“When you allow marijuana home grows, you turned every home into a potential drug house and promote international criminal organizations to move into family neighborhoods, which increases crime and murder,” Adams said.

The proposal can be approved by the committee as soon as Wednesday before moving to the Senate floor. If it were to pass a floor vote, it would need to gain the approval of the House in order to get to the governor’s desk.

Other proposals

The House has seen various other proposals that have focused almost solely on revising the soon-to-be-implemented industry’s tax structure.

House Bill 341, proposed by Rep. Gary Click, R-Vickery, suggests a tax structure that would decrease the amount of funds that would go toward Issue 2′s social equity and host community funds while increasing the amount that would go toward substance abuse reduction efforts and law enforcement training. Like Callender’s proposal, the bill will be considered by the House Finance Committee.

In House Bill 326, a single-paragraph proposal introduced by Rep. Cindy Abrams, R-Harrison, the former Cincinnati police officer suggested that the tax revenue raised by recreational marijuana ought to be used to annually fund peace officer training. The bill will be considered by the House Homeland Security Committee.

Where things stand

A day before the bill’s home grow provisions and legal possession of marijuana go into effect on Dec. 7, it’s still not clear which of these proposals will gain traction. While Republican leadership in the Senate prefers passing a revision as soon as possible, Republican leadership in the House has suggested that they aren’t working on an imminent deadline.

Ultimately, if the chambers can’t come to an agreement, Issue 2 will move forward as planned; home grow and possession will be legalized on Dec. 7 and the Department of Commerce will move forward with its directive to eventually flesh out regulatory rules, as Issue 2 demands.

It’s a fact that has given Callender some comfort and provided a platform to push back against the Senate’s proposal that, in his view, “(doesn’t) respect the will of the voters real well.”

“If negotiations fail, and we don’t end up with something, I’m okay with just letting the initiated statute go into effect, which is a pretty strong bargaining position to be in because if we don’t come up with an agreement, I’ll trust the rule making process.”

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