Issue 2 would legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio for people age 21 and older. Drawn image showing six marijuana plants, an Ohio identification card and a beg of marijuana.
Issue 2 would legalize recreational marijuana for Ohio adults age 21 and older. Credit: John G / Shiner Comics

Ohio voters on Tuesday made Ohio the 24th state – the 25th if the District of Columbia is included – to legalize recreational marijuana. 

Though voters rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana in 2015, Ohioans backed Issue 2 with almost 56% of statewide voters approving the measure and about 44% voting against it.

In Cuyahoga County, about 64% of voters backed Issue 2 and almost 36% opposed it. 

Multiple news outlets, including NBC News, projected it to win. The remaining uncounted votes might tighten the margin but would not change the outcome of the election.

In a statement celebrating voters’ approval of Issue 2 and Issue 1, which adds reproductive rights to the state constitution, Mayor Justin Bibb said the victories sent the message that Ohioans won’t allow government “overreach into personal, private decisions.”

“Decriminalizing marijuana is a victory for all of us,” Bibb said. “State Issue 2’s passage promotes safe use, reduces the barriers that disproportionately target Black and brown people and finally ends the prison pipeline for cannabis use.”

The new law goes into effect in 30 days and would allow people over 21 to smoke marijuana and grow small amounts at home. Ohioans can grow six plants,  or up to 12 if two or more adults live in a home. The new law also allows people to carry 2.5 ounces of marijuana or 15 grams of extract.

That’s if the law remains unchanged. 

Legislators can make changes to Issue 2

Issue 2 is an initiated statute, meaning legislators can revise the language. Any changes made to the law would have to go through Ohio’s Republican-controlled legislature. 

Senate President Matt Huffman said if the issue passes, parts of it will be back before the Legislature. 

“I definitely think that if it passes there’s problems in it that need to get addressed,” he said. “I will advocate for reviewing it, and repealing things or changing things that are in it.”

Tom Haren, spokesperson for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol, the group that got the measure on the ballot, said he’s not worried about legislators making drastic changes to the law. 

“It would be very difficult to repeal something if it were passed at a statewide vote,” Haren said. “It’s the will of the people expressed in its most genuine form.”

Issue 2 approval may help Ohio small businesses

Many small businesses in the cannabis industry wanted Issue 2 to pass. They say that the legalization of medical marijuana in 2016 ended up favoring multi-state operators. The entrepreneurs say that it has been easier for larger companies to land licenses in more than one aspect of Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program

Having more than one license – for example, one to grow marijuana and another to run a dispensary – makes it easier to sell directly to consumers. Being vertically integrated, as operating in more than one aspect of an industry is often called, lessens the chances of a competitor essentially blocking a business from operating in a given aspect of the industry.

Issue 2 sets up a social equity and jobs program that would give preference to economically or socially disadvantaged applicants in granting licenses, according to the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

Being designated a disadvantaged applicant hinges on factors ranging from race and gender to being from high-unemployment areas to having prior arrests or convictions for some marijuana or related offenses. 

Issue 2 creates a 10% point-of-sales tax for marijuana. Part of that money would fund the social equity and jobs program, including financial and training assistance for social equity applicants.

The state’s Department of Development will decide what criminal offenses disqualify a person from participating. 

The recreational program will be an extension of Ohio’s existing medical marijuana program, Haren said. 

The state decided people with misdemeanor marijuana offenses can get business or cultivation licenses to participate in Ohio’s medical marijuana program, which has been legal since 2016. 

The tax money set aside from Issue 2 would also help offset application fees and licensing fees to increase diversity within the industry, Haren said. 

Legalization comes with some limitations

It will still be illegal to use marijuana in public areas such as parks.  

A private property owner – whether a business owner, landlord or homeowner – can decide whether or not someone can use weed on their property. 

Marijuana users will not be allowed to drive or operate a streetcar, a trackless trolley, a bicycle, a watercraft or an aircraft while high. You also can’t get high in your parked car or as a passenger in someone’s car.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce’s board of directors came out against Issue 2. Board members believe that legalizing recreational marijuana will increase absenteeism and workplace injuries.

Health experts told Signal Cleveland more research is needed to learn about the health risks and possible benefits of marijuana. 

As more states continue to legalize marijuana, researchers are studying the effects of cannabis in its various forms to see how long it lasts in a person’s system and if it is better to ingest or smoke, one doctor told Signal Cleveland.

Criminal Justice Reporter (she/her)
Stephanie, who covered criminal justice and breaking news at the Chicago Tribune, is a bilingual journalist with a passion for storytelling that is inclusive and reflects the diversity of the communities she covers. She has been a reporter and copy editor for local newspapers in South Dakota, Kansas and Arizona. Stephanie is also a Maynard 200 alumni, a Maynard Institute for Journalism Education training program for journalists of color that focuses on making newsrooms more equitable, diverse and anti-racist.