Issue 2: Ohio Senate approves higher tax, fewer plants, criminal expungement

The Ohio Senate approved a revision to the Issue 2 adult recreational marijuana law Wednesday evening, tweaking the language previously approved by voters to raise the tax on sales, reduce home grow limits and lower certain THC levels.

The Senate-approved changes would need to be approved by the Ohio House and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine before becoming law. In the meantime, Issue 2 as approved by voters in November will go into effect Thursday.

The Senate bill has bipartisan support and is backed by DeWine, who called a press conference Wednesday to urge lawmakers to support it.

Under the Senate’s proposal, Ohioans 21-years-old and older would be able to buy recreational marijuana within 90 days of the bill’s effective date, made possible by allowing medicinal marijuana dispensaries to sell to of-age customers. This provision is the biggest diversion from Issue 2. Under that statute, the state’s first legal recreational sale won’t occur until mid-to-late 2024.

The Senate’s proposal also:

  • Sets a six plant limit per household for home grow. Under Issue 2, would be a 12 plant limit.
  • Sets a 15% flat tax on recreational sale. Under Issue 2, it would be 10%.
  • Creates a provision that allows any Ohioan who has pleaded guilty to possession of under 2.5 ounces of marijuana to expunge their record. Issue 2 did not specifically reference any expungement.
  • Limits the maximum THC content for extract to 50%. In Issue 2, that limit was 90%.

The 29-2 vote, which came around 6 p.m. Wednesday — just six hours before Issue 2 goes into effect — marks the first concrete step either chamber of the Ohio General Assembly has taken to address what many lawmakers to believe to be a flawed recreational statute that was approved by Ohio voters on Election Day.

The most pressing issue, according to Ohio officials, is the window between legalized possession and legalized sale. In a press conference Wednesday evening, DeWine noted his fears that Ohioans would flock to black market sources to purchase marijuana.

Under the Senate’s proposal, depending on if and how quickly the House approves the bill, that window would be shrunk from nine or more months under Issue 2 to three months. The Senate could have approved a bill with an emergency clause, which would have allowed the law to go into effect immediately.

Local Sen. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg, was the only Senate Republican to vote against the bill.

“This was a massive tax increase on Ohioans, from 10% which they voted for to 15%,” Antani said in a message to this news organization. “I strongly oppose this terrible tax increase for Ohioans.”

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