Is Ohio about to legalize recreational marijuana?

Voters will decide in November whether the state will legalize marijuana use for both medicinal and recreational purpose.

Scott Sonner/AP
Dozens of people line up outside the Silver State Relief medical marijuana dispensary in Sparks, Nev., Friday, July 31, 2015, to be among the first in Nevada to legally purchase medicinal pot.

Ohio may become the first state in the Midwest to legalize marijuana use.
 
This fall, voters will decide whether the Buckeye State will legalize its use for both medicinal and recreational purposes, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer. 
 
The move comes after advocacy group ResponsibleOhio garnered over 300,000 signatures calling for a marijuana legalization constitutional amendment. On Wednesday, Ohio Secretary of State Jon Husted certified the petition, with voting scheduled to take place on Nov. 3. 

Four states have already legalized recreational marijuana use, but if the amendment passes, Ohio will become the first to do so without having legalized medical marijuana first. 

"Drug dealers don't care about doing what's best for our state and its citizens,” ResponsibleOhio Executive Director Ian James said in a statement.

“By reforming marijuana laws in November, we'll provide compassionate care to sick Ohioans, bring money back to our local communities and establish a new industry with limitless economic development opportunities."

If passed, the amendment would allow physicians to prescribe medical marijuana to patients, while adults age 21 and older would be able to buy, possess, and grow marijuana in limited amounts, reports the Cleveland Plain Dealer.

But passage of the measure is far from a sure thing.

ResponsibleOhio spent nearly $2.5 million in June to collect signatures, and under its plan, commercial marijuana would be grown only on 10 sites owned by its campaign backers – a condition that angry legalization advocates say would “cement a monopoly on pot in the Ohio Constitution.”

To prevent that from happening, state lawmakers have put an initiative known as Issue 2 on the November ballot. It would prohibit language granting "a monopoly, oligopoly or cartel" in the Ohio Constitution. But even if both initiatives pass this fall, Secretary of State Husted and attorneys for state lawmakers say Issue 2 may nullify the marijuana amendment. 

The result of the election could create a ripple effect across the country. According to the Washington Post, “the Ohio ballot initiative is seen as an important test for the marijuana legalization movement, as the state is often seen as a political bellwether for the rest of the country.” 

If voters approve the amendment, Ohio will become the fifth state to legalize recreational use, along with Colorado, Washington, Oregon, Alaska, and the District of Columbia. So far, 19 states have decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana for personal use, and 23 states have legalized its use for medical purposes.  

“Support for marijuana legalization is rapidly outpacing opposition,” reports the Pew Research Center.

According to a survey led by the Pew Research Center in April, 53 percent of Americans polled said they favor the legal use of marijuana, while 44 percent said they are opposed. In 2006, only 32 percent supported marijuana legalization, while nearly twice as many were opposed.

States have been jumping on the marijuana bandwagon as well. Efforts towards legalization are already under way in Nevada, California, Massachusetts, Maine, and Arizona, reports Forbes magazine.

Yet regulating marijuana use, distribution, and taxation comes with obstacles, which is why some states are inching towards legalization slower than others.

“It’s been sort of an ongoing scandal in California that the state has not really come up with any clear regulatory guidelines on medical marijuana,” says Dale Gieringer, state coordinator of California NORML, a member of the Coalition for Cannabis Policy Reform.

"We lay out the whole framework for legal regulation as we move on to adult use,” Mr. Gieringer told LA Weekly. “If you look at Colorado, it took a year and a half or two to get things running and off the ground, and they're still debugging the system.”

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