Adults can now legally own and grow marijuana in Ohio, but there’s nowhere to buy it

Ohioans woke up Thursday to a land of uncertainty about recreational marijuana use: Adults can now legally grow and possess cannabis at home, but cannot legally purchase it.

On Wednesday night, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine urged lawmakers to quickly set parameters for Question 2, the citizen initiative voters approved in November. While the state Senate pushed through an 11th-hour deal hours before the law took effect, the Ohio House of Representatives retreated without taking it up.

Congressman Jamie Callender said there is “no cut-off date” for implementing a legal sales scheme and that home-grown marijuana or possession permits can continue as voters wish.

He said he wanted to “make sure we’re careful that we’ve had enough time to look at it and deal with the things that don’t go into effect right away.”

Congressman Bill Seitz also defended the decision to adjourn without taking action on the 160 pages of related legislation now pending in the House.

“We will not pass, invisible, such a monstrous proposal in 48 hours. It’s crazy,” Seitz said. Lawmakers need time to deal with the complexities of organizing cannabis sales, taxation and the regulatory structure, he said.

DeWine, however, openly worries about the worst-case scenario developing, saying that black market sales could flourish or that marijuana products containing fentanyl or pesticides could become more widely available. He called the current state of affairs a “recipe for disaster.”

Lawmakers had four months last year to act. As a citizen-initiated statute, #2 had to be presented to the Legislature first. After the GOP-controlled Legislature chose to do nothing, the measure was put on the Nov. 7 ballot and passed with 57 percent of the vote.

It allows adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and grow up to six plants per person or 12 plants per household at home. It gave the state nine months to create a system for legal marijuana purchases subject to a 10 percent tax. Revenue from sales was to be split between administrative costs, addiction treatment, dispensary municipalities, social justice payments, and jobs programs supporting the cannabis industry itself.

With just days to go before the law goes into effect, Senate Republicans have proposed a sweeping rewrite of what voters approved, angering supporters of the issue and alarming both parties in the House. It would ban home cultivation, reduce the legal amount of pot that can be owned to 1 ounce, and raise taxes on purchases to 15%. It would also eliminate tax revenue funding for social capital programs supporting the marijuana industry and direct most of the tax money collected to a general state government fund.

The compromise negotiated with DeWine and approved 28-2 by the Senate on Wednesday would reduce the number of permitted houseplants to six, keep the higher 15% tax on purchases and reduce the allowable THC levels for cannabis extracts by 90% at 50%. The deal would reinstate the 2.5-ounce possession limit and allow 35% THC in plants, while removing state control over most of the proceeds.

The authors of the legislation won support from Democrats in part by adding a provision to expunge the criminal records of people convicted of possession of up to 2.5 ounces. That measure would also require child-safe packaging and ban ads aimed at children — a priority for the governor.

If lawmakers stray too far from what voters approved, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol or other supporters of Question 2 could always hold a referendum. That possibility should give lawmakers an incentive to work with supporters of looser marijuana laws, said Stephen Steinglass, dean emeritus of Cleveland State University’s College of Law and a leading expert on the Ohio constitution.

He said some of the maneuvers being carried out now are unprecedented.

“Voters have approved only three initiated statutes in 111 years, and none of the three have been amended, repealed or tampered with by the General Assembly,”

Senate President Matt Huffman said the Senate compromise respects voters while addressing important issues.

“I’m against (legalization), but it’s the law,” he said. “We don’t want illegal sales — the black market, if you will — to take hold.”

Meanwhile, there are many aspects of Ohio’s new law that can be implemented immediately, said Louis Tobin, executive director of the Ohio District Attorneys Association.

“Starting Thursday, it will be very difficult to find probable cause and prosecute people who carry less than 2.5 ounces of marijuana, but prosecutors and law enforcement will still be on the lookout,” Tobin said. “People smoking in cars are still breaking the law, people carrying more than 2.5 ounces are still breaking the law, people doing private sales are still breaking the law, people driving under the influence, still breaking the law.”

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Samantha Hendrickson is a corps member of the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. America Report is a national nonprofit program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercover issues.

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