Ohio lawmakers want to change rules for legal marijuana. But they can’t agree on how

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Ohio’s top elected leaders have made one thing clear: They want to change the recreational marijuana law approved by voters last week.

They just don’t have a plan yet.

Ohioans approved Issue 2 in the Nov. 7 election with 57% of the vote, according to unofficial results. The initiated statute will allow adults 21 and older to buy, possess and grow marijuana. Products will be taxed 10% on top of the state sales tax, with revenue going into four pots: a social equity and jobs program, municipalities with dispensaries, a substance abuse fund and administrative costs. 

More: When can I buy marijuana in Ohio? What to know about new recreational law.

Within hours of the issue’s passage, Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, and House Speaker Jason Stephens, R-Kitts Hill, said changes are coming. Gov. Mike DeWine said it’s important to respect the will of the voters but signaled he wants the Legislature to clarify rules for public smoking, among other proposals.

“I don’t think any of the things that I have suggested that we do really flies in the face of the spirit of what people were voting on,” DeWine said Monday. “I truly believe most people went in and the issue was, are we going to have legal marijuana or are we not going have legal marijuana? The details, I’m not sure people got focused on. I have to focus on it because we have to administer it. We have to make sure it actually does, in fact, work.”

The governor has urged the Legislature to act quickly. The law takes effect Dec. 7, and DeWine believes Ohioans should understand the ground rules from Day 1. But legislative leaders may not share his sense of urgency.

“That runway is all the way through September before the first licenses are even issued, so to do that decision-making process in the next couple of weeks, it’s going be a real challenge to put forth such a large program that quickly,” Stephens said Tuesday.

What changes will Ohio lawmakers make to Issue 2?

Lawmakers have floated several ideas since Issue 2’s passage.

There’s been talk of changing the tax rate and using revenue to fund county jails or police training. DeWine said they need to find a “sweet spot” on taxation that produces meaningful revenue but doesn’t drive Ohioans back to the black market. Senate Minority Leader Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, said Senate Democrats want to give some of the money to K-12 schools.

“From our perspective, we want to make sure that we are maintaining the intent of the voters who passed Issue 2, but also being very thoughtful in giving flexibility back to our local communities in regards to how they use the revenues,” House Minority Leader Allison Russo, D-Upper Arlington, said.

Stephens said changes to the tax structure don’t need to be finalized by Dec. 7, noting legal sales won’t start for at least nine months under the statute. Ohioans will be able to use, possess and grow marijuana starting that day.

And not all of their ideas are tied to the money. Huffman said he wants to look at rules for THC content caps − the maximum allowed in products − which must be at least 35% for plant material and 90% for extracts. Russo said House Democrats are open to proposals floated by DeWine that would limit children’s exposure to advertising and clear up how people can use marijuana in public.

Under Issue 2, using marijuana in “public areas” would land someone with a minor misdemeanor. The law also says property owners and “any public place” could decide for themselves whether to accommodate marijuana use. Smoking marijuana specifically would fall under the state’s smoking ban.

Business leaders contend this language is unclear, while the law’s backers compare it to alcohol: You generally can’t drink on a sidewalk, but you can in a licensed bar or restaurant.

Whether legislators can address any of those issues in the next few weeks remains to be seen. The Senate is currently scheduled to meet twice before Dec. 7, while the House has four sessions on the calendar. 

“It is certainly ambitious,” Russo told reporters. “But I think all of you have been around here long enough to know when the General Assembly wants to move quickly, it can − and when it doesn’t, it doesn’t.”