Author: Jim Ickes
In recent years, the landscape of cannabis legalization across the United States has undergone significant transformation, with Ohio poised to potentially become the 24th state to implement an adult-use program. The journey of the Buckeye State presents a compelling narrative of shifting perspectives, legislative developments, and economic considerations.
Ohio’s medical marijuana program, inaugurated in January 2019, has witnessed substantial growth, registering nearly $955 million in sales by July 2022. The program has successfully enrolled 355,368 patients, with approximately 150,000 maintaining active recommendations and registrations. With a burgeoning market, researchers at Ohio State University project that the potential annual tax revenue from adult-use cannabis in Ohio could range between $276 million to $374 million in the fifth year of an operational market.
Michigan, another Midwestern state with a comparably sized population of over 10 million residents, should serve as a clarion call to what Ohio could achieve in cannabis industry growth. Michigan’s thriving marijuana market is projected to surpass $3 billion in 2023, buoyed by customers from neighboring states including Wisconsin, Indiana, and Ohio.
However, the path to full legalization remains complex. A new poll by Fallon Research indicates that 59% of registered voters in Ohio support a ballot measure for cannabis legalization for adults aged 21 and up. This sentiment is mirrored in a July Suffolk University/USA Today poll, revealing that a majority of Ohio voters, across party lines, support the legalization initiative.
Despite the public’s inclination towards legalization, the state has witnessed over 60,000 cannabis-related arrests since medical legalization in 2016, primarily for possession. This reflects a broader national trend where, according to the ACLU, millions are arrested for marijuana possession, costing about $3.6 billion annually, and disproportionately affecting Black communities. The reclassification of marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule III, as recommended by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, could alleviate some criminal penalties associated with possession, though it does not decriminalize it.
Economically, the legalization of marijuana in states like Colorado has demonstrated potential benefits, reducing law enforcement costs and decreasing the number of marijuana-related arrests and court filings. The shift towards legalization could save the United States between $7.7 billion and $13.7 billion annually, according to Harvard economist Jeffrey Miron. Moreover, for every $1.00 spent in the marijuana industry, between $2.13 and $2.40 in economic activity is generated in associated industries such as tourism and real estate.
In Ohio, the presence of a thriving black market, which pays no state or federal income tax and no sales tax, poses challenges for state-legal marijuana growers competing in the market. The potential shift to a legal market would also imply a substantial increase in tax revenue for the state.
Despite these developments and projections, the legislative journey towards legalization in Ohio remains intricate. Issue 2 will appear as an initiated statute, allowing state lawmakers to have the final say. Although the governor lacks the authority to veto a proposal made law via the ballot, legislators can propose and pass modifications to the new law after the election.
In conclusion, Ohio”s journey toward cannabis legalization is emblematic of the broader national dialogue, reflecting changing societal attitudes, economic considerations, and legislative complexities. The state”s evolving cannabis landscape underscores the multifaceted nature of marijuana policy and its implications for the future.
Footnotes as of 2 October 2023