BERLIN - AUGUST 07: A man smokes licenced medicinal marijuana prior to participating in the annual Hemp Parade, or "Hanfparade", in support of the legalization of marijuana in Germany on August 7, 2010 in Berlin, Germany. The consumption of cannabis in Germany is legal, though all other aspects, including growing, importing or selling it, are not. However, since the introduction of a new law in 2009, the sale and possession of marijuana for licenced medicinal use is legal. (Photo by Sean Gallup/Getty Images)

BY: JAKE ZUCKERMAN and Ohio Capital Journal

Two Ohio House Republicans on Tuesday proposed legalizing marijuana for recreational use in Ohio.

In legislation that has not yet been formally introduced, Reps. Jamie Callender and Ron Ferguson pitched a program that would allow Ohioans 21 and older to purchase marijuana from licensed distributors or grow up to six plants in their home.

“Adults should be able to make decisions for themselves,” Ferguson said. “That’s what this bill is about.”

The bill would impose a 10% sales tax on marijuana. As drafted, 25% of the revenue would go to support law enforcement, and another 25% would go toward mental health services with a focus on substance use recovery efforts. Adults could lawfully possess up to five ounces of marijuana.

The sponsors acknowledged the bill’s trajectory would be somewhat dicey: They said the House Speaker is hesitant on the issue; the governor and Senate President have expressed more explicit opposition.

However, the 2020 elections were a banner year for marijuana, notching ballot referendum wins even in GOP strongholds like Montana and South Dakota. Eighteen states, plus Washington D.C., have legalized marijuana for adult recreational use, according to July research from the National Conference of State Legislatures. Thirty-six, including Ohio, have legalized marijuana for medicinal use.

“[The Speaker] is generally unfavorable to recreational use,” Callender said. “However, he does read the tea leaves, and he is giving us a chance to prove that this is a reasonable option.”

A Cupp spokesman didn’t respond to inquiries. Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, told the USA TODAY Network Ohio this summer that he opposes marijuana legalization.

Callender said there would be an expungement process outlined in the bill for people who have previously been convicted of certain crimes related to marijuana. He didn’t immediately offer specifics.

Outside organizers, in an industry-backed effort, are seeking to force the Legislature’s hand. In August, they received the green light from state officials to begin collecting the 133,000 signatures required to force lawmakers to consider the issue. Should lawmakers decline to do so, the issue would then be placed on the ballot for voters to directly weigh in.

Callender said his proposal could be a means to get ahead of the ballot referendum and give lawmakers more control over the final outcome, though he acknowledged the principal ideas in both are similar.

The idea can be lucrative for the state. Colorado, roughly half the population of Ohio, levies a 15% sales tax on retail marijuana, plus a 2.9% sales tax on marijuana sold in stores and a 15% wholesale sales tax. The state earned $387 million in marijuana tax revenue from calendar year 2020, according to state data. Michigan, which launched its recreational program in late 2019, received $45.7 million in tax revenue in fiscal year 2020.

Research from Ohio State University’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center within its law school estimated that Ohio could drive $625 million in revenue from recreational marijuana sales, assuming the state taxes and its residents consume marijuana at even levels as Colorado.

House Democrats have proposed a marijuana program as well, though the legislation has yet to receive any committee attention.

Jake Zuckerman is a statehouse reporter. He spent three years chronicling the West Virginia Legislature for The Charleston Gazette-Mail after covering cops and courts for The Northern Virginia Daily.
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