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'Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol' launches new bid to legalize recreational cannabis

Portion of tax proceeds would go to 'Social Equity Fund'
Recreational Marijuana
Posted at 4:07 PM, Jul 27, 2021
and last updated 2021-07-27 19:49:18-04

CLEVELAND — The "Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol" has started the process to change Ohio laws so that people 21 years and older can possess and use marijuana in the state.

The proposed changes would take at least four big steps:

  • End marijuana prohibition
  • Creates the Division of Cannabis Control in the Ohio Department of Commerce for regulation
  • Allows medical marijuana cultivators and dispensaries to expand to the adult-use market
  • Creates a Social Equity Fund

Social Equity Fund

The Ohio Department of Development would create a Cannabis Social Equity and Jobs Program which would be funded by the Cannabis Social Equity and Jobs Fund, which would be funded by 36% of the tax on cannabis products. The fund would provide assistance to people who meet certain criteria to help them get into the recreational marijuana industry.

That fund would help license applicants who qualify based on:

  • Wealth
  • Racial identity
  • Physical disability
  • Residence in an area of high unemployment
  • Previous convictions toward the owner or a family member for a marijuana-related offense

The program would also fund studies for criminal justice reform initiatives, including expungement for previous marijuana-related offenses.

“At its heart, this is an element of the concept of restorative justice,” said Frantz Ward Attorney and Partner Tom Haren. “We want to provide regulated and safe products to consumers but we also want to correct the errors and injustice of the drug war and marijuana prohibition.”

Haren says the Ohio State University Drug Enforcement and Policy Center study looked at the tax revenue in Colorado after it legalized recreational use. He says adjusted for population size, a 10% tax on all cannabis products would create about $400 million for Ohio, $150 million of which would be for the Social Equity Fund, every year.

Marijuana availability in Ohio

The proposal would substantially increase the number of licenses allowed for cultivation and dispensaries to sell marijuana, since the legal demand would likely increase. There would be no cap on the licenses and Haren says there would be a preference for some of the licenses to go to people who qualify for help through the Social Equity Fund.

Medical marijuana companies would have a large advantage since they have already had a multi-year head start to build facilities that would eventually be able to create recreational supply.

“When was the last time you downloaded music from Napster? Probably not in the last ten years,” said Haren. “You have the iTunes Store, you have Amazon Music and Google Play. There is now an alternative to those sources of music that now you’re paying for, and it's unquestionably legal, and I think that’s what’s happened with cannabis in legal and regulated markets.”

The proposal also includes home grow options, which would allow someone to grow six of their own plans, or 12 plants in one location if two or more adults live there.

The signature process

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol is submitting a summary of its proposed language along with 1,000 signatures to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost.

Once he approves the summary of the proposed legislation, the group will have to collect nearly 133,000 signatures across Ohio to get the legislature to take up the changes. They hope to have that finished by late 2021 or early 2022.

Haren says lawmakers have four months to take action, after which the initiative can collect nearly 133,000 signatures again to put it on the ballot in November 2022. Haren says the group is “laser-focused” on getting lawmakers to pass the bill and getting Governor DeWine to sign it.

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