Ohio Senate reaches bipartisan deal on marijuana; House fails to act



(The Center Square) – As Ohioans began to buy recreational marijuana legally today, lawmakers continue to iron out changes to the law overwhelmingly passed by voters in November.

Those adjustments are now in the hands of the House after the Senate reached a bipartisan compromise late Wednesday that left provisions for homegrown plants, expanded licensing for dispensaries and allowed counties to put an excise tax on the ballot.

Senate leaders expected the compromise to be approved by the House on Wednesday night, but it adjourned without taking up the bill.

“Frankly I was very surprised,” said Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima. “We had made it clear, and the governor had made it clear, that we had wanted to send this over to them.”

Gov. Mike DeWine said the House’s failure to act opens the black market for marijuana sales.

“Without enactment of this bill, we will have the following situation – while it will be legal for Ohioans to buy marijuana, there will be no place for them to buy it,” DeWine said.

The House is not expected to be in session again until next week.

Issue 2 became legal at midnight Thursday, allowing people 21 and older grow, possess and buy medical marijuana. Also, Issue 1 – abortion rights in Ohio also overwhelmingly approved by voters in November – went into effect at midnight.

While abortion rights are a constitutional amendment, recreational marijuana passed as an initiated statute, allowing lawmakers to make adjustments to the law.

The marijuana changes were added to House Bill 86, introduced earlier this year to increase the amount of liquor a micro-distillery can produce annually. The House passed it in June.

“The people of Ohio said loud and clear that they want legal, safe and accessible marijuana,” said Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood. “Our caucus worked together to ensure that the voice of the people was reflected in the changes made to the bill.”

The Senate amended the bill this week to include recreational marijuana regulations, including:

• Immediate implementation and access to recreational marijuana sales 90 days after passage rather than nine months.

• Provide a process for immediate expungement of marijuana possession convictions upon request.

• Provide a funding stream covering legal fees and court costs related to expungement.

• Leaves voter-approved possession limits and THC limit.

• Allows six home-grown six plants per household.

• Allows anyone who qualifies to apply for a license, rather than only those already in the marijuana business.

• Allows counties to place a marijuana excise tax on the ballot.

• Prohibits indoor smoking.

“It is important that Ohioans have immediate access to tested and certified recreational marijuana they can have confidence in buying,” said Sen. Rob McColley, R-Napolean. “Additionally, this bipartisan plan will help dissolve the underground criminal market with legal sales beginning immediately. Without these changes, Issue 2 would delay the program for nine months.”

The excise tax, which many counties already have on tobacco products, would be earmarked for arts, culture and entertainment within the county if approved by voters.

“Today, the Ohio Senate rose to the moment, listened to the voters, engaged in true bipartisanship, and crafted adult use marijuana legislation in response to the Nov. 7 election results,” said Sen. Kent Smith, D-Euclid. “I was grateful that the provision that I advocated for – that all 88 counties are now able to use marijuana revenue to reinvest in their creative economies – was included in the legislation.”

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