On August 17, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose officially certified an initiative for the November 2023 ballot that would legalize adult use cannabis in Ohio. Under the proposal from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, all adults age 21 and older would be permitted to possess up to 2.5 ounces of adult use cannabis and up to 15 grams of adult use cannabis extract for personal use. The measure would also allow home-growing of up to 6 plants per person, with a maximum of 12 plants per household.
If approved, the measure will create a new regulatory body, the Division of Cannabis Control under the state Department of Commerce, to manage the adult use program. Growing, processing, or selling adult-use cannabis will require a license from this new regulatory agency. The first adult use business licenses will go to existing medical marijuana operators. Any such applications must be approved by the Division of Cannabis Control within 9 months of the adult use statute becoming effective.
The measure also requires the Division of Cannabis Control to issue 40 adult use cultivator licenses and 50 adult use retailer licenses to new operators. Preference will be provided to applicants who meet certain requirements under the new cannabis social equity and jobs program. That program requires that owners show both social and economic disadvantage, as determined to be sufficient by the Ohio Department of Development. This may include: wealth certification; social disadvantage based on race, ethnicity, gender, physical disability, or long-term residence in an area of high unemployment; or, previous criminal arrests or convictions of owners, their spouses, children, or parents for marijuana related offenses.
Applicants who do not meet the social equity prerequisites are not completely out of luck. The Division of Cannabis Control is also authorized to issue a second round of licenses 24 months after the first adult use license is issued, with the exact number of licenses available to be determined by the Division at later date.
Local municipalities and townships may opt out of allowing adult use cannabis businesses, but must affirmatively elect to do so via an ordinance or resolution. Given that a substantial number of Ohio’s townships and municipalities currently prohibit medical marijuana businesses, we anticipate that local governments across the state will generally take an adverse position to the idea of recreational marijuana being legally grown or sold within their boundaries. Additionally, as with medical marijuana businesses, adult use businesses cannot be located within 500 feet of the property boundary line of a “prohibited facility,” which includes any school, church, library, playground, or park.
Prospective adult use applications should be well-aware of the challenges involved with finding suitable property for their cannabis business. Identifying property has been a major hurdle in previous medical marijuana licensing rounds, even for the best-equipped applicants. It is likely that interested businesses will need to search long and hard in order to find a property that is situated in an area allowing adult use cannabis, meets the distance requirements from any prohibited facilities, and is otherwise suitable to locate a successful retail or cultivation business.
While Ohio’s adult use ballot measure is quite permissive in terms of what it allows, there are still limits within the measure. For example, employers can still prohibit workers from consuming adult use cannabis, even if the use occurs off-the-job. Employers should be advised that the measure does not impact their right to maintain drug-free workplace or zero tolerance policies, mandate drug testing for employees or new hires, or receive rebates or discounts on premium rates for workers’ compensation in connection with drug-free workplace programs.
Further, operating a motor vehicle, watercraft, or aircraft while under the influence of cannabis remains unlawful. Smoking, vaporizing, or using any other combustible adult use cannabis product while in any such vehicle is also prohibited, including for passengers.
Being an indirect initiated statute, the measure will require only a simple majority from voters in order to pass and become law. While Ohio’s state legislature has been lukewarm in its support for cannabis-related legal reforms, Ohio voters appear to strongly favor the idea. A July 2023 poll of 500 voters by Suffolk University and USA TODAY showed a resounding 59 percent of Ohioans in support of the measure, with only 25 percent opposed. As such, it is very likely that Ohio will soon be joining 23 other states in allowing the recreational use of marijuana.