Ohio’s Ongoing Efforts to Update Adult-Use Cannabis Law Continue

Progress on cannabis legislation in Ohio has experienced a temporary pause as House legislators navigate the complexities of proposed changes.

Last week, Ohio House Speaker Jason Stephens addressed the media, acknowledging the intricate nature of the cannabis issue. Despite voters approving Issue 2 in November 2023, which went into effect on December 7, legislators retain the authority to introduce amendments to the law following voter approval. However, two bills, House Bill 86 and House Bill 354, intended to enact specific modifications to the law established by the voter initiative, have yet to move forward.

Initially introduced in February 2023, House Bill 86 sought to implement several alterations to the provisions of Issue 2. After passing in the House between May and June 2023, HB-86 progressed to the Senate in September. By December, the Senate approved amendments, including provisions for automatic expungements, program funding, a shortened grace period for medical cannabis dispensaries to sell adult-use cannabis, expanded license eligibility, and funding for the 988 suicide hotline. Senator Vernon Sykes highlighted the Senate Democratic minority’s role in negotiating a compromise bill to uphold the voice of the people.

However, despite these Senate changes, the House has yet to take further action on the bill as of the session on February 7.

Nevertheless, Issue 2 will continue to proceed as planned. Tom Haren, spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, emphasized that Issue 2 establishes a comprehensive regulatory framework independent of legislative action.

Moreover, Issue 2 mandated the creation of the Division of Cannabis Control (DCC) within the Ohio Department of Commerce, tasked with formulating regulations for adult-use cannabis sales. According to the Ohio Capital Journal, the DCC is expected to finalize these rules by June 7, with provisional licenses for non-medical cannabis facilities anticipated to be issued by September 7.

The complexity surrounding the cannabis issue, as noted by Speaker Stephens, primarily revolves around determining dispensary license allocations and addressing tax revenue allocation. Discussions are ongoing, with priority placed on thorough deliberations given the extended timeframe for this issue.

House Bill 86, initially focused on amending state liquor laws, proposes a 15% increase in cannabis tax rates compared to the 10% set by Issue 2. Additionally, it grants city and county governments authority to levy additional taxes, permits home cultivation of up to six plants, and advocates for automatic expungements for possession of 2.5 ounces of cannabis or less. If signed into law by Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, these changes would take effect 90 days thereafter.

Furthermore, HB-86 outlines revenue distribution to various channels, including county jail construction, law enforcement training, substance abuse treatment, and suicide prevention.

Despite the current pause, some legislators remain optimistic about progress when the House reconvenes on April 10. House Minority Leader Allison Russo emphasized ongoing discussions regarding aspects of the legislation that require further attention.

Tom Haren expressed confidence in forthcoming progress, noting a more deliberate approach by the House. Additionally, House Bill 354, introduced in December, aims to clarify existing language in Issue 2, particularly regarding home cultivation and revenue allocation from cannabis taxes.


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