COLUMBUS, Ohio — Mere weeks before the end of the year, two different bills to legalize the recreational use of marijuana received their first hearing in the Ohio House, but there is still a citizen petition that is darting through the process.
Ohioans, specifically Clevelanders, have been trying to get marijuana legalized for recreational use for years now. Lawmakers are stepping in to join the fight, but it hasn’t been successful so far.
"Clearly these two bills are having a courtesy hearing for sponsor testimony,” state Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) said.
Callender gave testimony on House Bill 498, which would extend Ohio’s current medical marijuana program to include non-medicinal adult use. He and state Rep. Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) had been waiting for a hearing for more than one year.
This would put in place a regulated framework for the growth, processing, distribution and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for Ohioans 21 years old and over.
"I think education and just becoming comfortable with the idea will help more and more people realize that this is kind of like ending prohibition," Callender said.
But the Northeast Ohio lawmaker is struggling to get his fellow GOP colleagues on board.
While Callender was being interviewed, "just say no" was jokingly yelled by state Rep. Shane Wilkin (R-Hillsboro).
"For recreational weed to have stores on every corner, it just — it's not a good precedence," Wilkin said. "I think the cons outweigh the pros in recreational."
It will be costly to legalize weed, both financially and socially, Wilkin argued. He is worried about communities being disturbed, changes for the police, and how it could impact businesses.
"It can cause issues in workforce," he added. "Are you under the influence or is it there from two weekends ago?"
Callender assured none of those issues are happening in any of the states where it is legal, and Weinstein said legal weed is coming — whether the Republicans like it or not.
"Ohioans are way out ahead of the legislature on this issue," Weinstein said. "What I think we're hearing here is a lack of political will to get this done, but there's not a lack of will on the citizens' side."
The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol created a petition to put the issue to the voters. This is not a constitutional amendment, but an initiated statute that would change the Ohio Revised Code to legalize and regulate weed for any adult 21 and older. It would also allow for cultivation and possession of up to 2.5 ounces.
There are many reasons why this is a bipartisan idea, Weinstein said.
"Whether it be for the economic reasons, easing burden on law enforcement, helping to alleviate folks who have been, you know, wrongfully, I think, targeted by the justice system," he said. "It's looking at criminal justice reform, revenue that can go into communities, the medicinal benefits of this.
"There is so much to like about marijuana legalization that it casts a wide net and folks are broadly behind it."
This petition has already satisfied much of its requirements and all lawmakers can agree it is moving quickly. The initiative fought back after being rejected by the GOP for allegedly "missing deadline" for signatures, something the weed-backers sued over.
"Ohio is ready for legalization statewide," Weinstein said. "By ignoring that fact, Republican leadership is only showing Ohio that they are afraid of the voters and how they will turn out for this issue."
The coalition settled with state officials, not putting the weed petition on the ballot for the Nov. midterms. In turn, the group is allowed to resubmit a good chunk of the signatures they already received the year prior.
"I also always prefer that the Legislature take the initiative on things rather than a petition," Callender said. "But I would prefer to see that, than nothing."
And as for future marijuana bills? Well, it may be more of a bipartisan effort next time. After the hearing, Callender and Weinstein discussed the possibility of partnering together next year to put another bill forward.