Legislative Update: Marijuana legalization moves toward consensus in Ohio

Welcome to our legislative roundup! Twice a month, we’ll give you an update on what Portage County lawmakers are doing in Washington and Columbus. This roundup will include information on the various bills your representatives are voting on as well as how they’re voting.

Marijuana legalization

Voters passed Issue 2 in the general election, so 30 days later — Dec. 7 — it technically became legal to possess, grow and buy recreational marijuana in Ohio.

But lawmakers are having their say. As the Associated Press noted, recreational marijuana may be legal, but there’s no sanctioned place to buy it.

State senators took a key step last week toward setting up regulations in response to Issue 2.

Sen. Vernon Sykes, D-Akron, hailed the Senate’s 29-2 passage of the revised House Bill 86.

The bill, part of an alcohol regulation bill, makes key changes to Issue 2’s regulations. The number of home-grown plants would be reduced, the state sales tax level would be higher and the maximum potency of cannabis extracts would be reduced, WOSU reported.

Despite those changes, Sykes applauded the Senate Democratic minority, saying it “held the line and successfully negotiated a compromise bill that would salvage the voice of the people.”

The Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project saw the initial proposed revision to the bill passed in the House in June as “an evisceration of the voter-approved law, including removing home cultivation, slashing possession limits, removing social equity provisions, and more than doubling taxes.”

After the passage of Issue 2, Ohioans were outraged with the Senate’s initial legislation, MPP says, and the Senate made changes: “The revised version of HB 86 walks back the gutting of home cultivation and possession limits and includes two positive changes — limited expungement and earlier adult-use sales.”

Sykes, in his news release, noted that the bill would allow automatic expungement of marijuana possession convictions and provide funding for courts and legal aid groups to ensure that legal fees are not a barrier to expungement.

While HB 86 was moving back to the House, MPP said the House is also considering cannabis bill HB 354, which “is far closer to Issue 2 than the Senate’s opening salvo. But it, too, increases taxes and bans sharing.”

HB 354 was slated for hearings in the House Finance Committee on Dec. 12 and 13. Rep. Gail K. Pavliga, R-Atwater, is a member of the committee.

Higher education battle

A controversial higher education bill advanced with an 8-7 vote in an Ohio House committee Dec. 6.

“Republican Reps. Rep. Gail Pavliga and Justin Pizzulli joined their Democrat committee members in voting against the bill,” reports the Ohio Capital Journal.

The bill takes aim at faculty tenure; diversity, equity and inclusion training; partnerships with Chinese academic institutions; and seeks to define controversial beliefs or policies while protecting students from being indoctrinated, the Ohio Capital Journal reported.

Senate Bill 83 passed 21-10 in May. Reps. Steve Demetriou, R-Bainbridge Twp., and Josh Williams, R-Oregon, introduced it in the House in April.

Demetriou, whose district 35 includes parts of southern and eastern Portage County, stated in a news release then that he sees a misalignment of values at universities and community colleges and that a “balanced education” must be ensured.

While it’s been reported that House Speaker Jason Stephens doesn’t believe the bill has the votes to pass in the House, Sen. Jerry Cirino, R-Kirtland, sponsor in the Senate, said in a news release that the bill may have momentum after the recent backlash over Capitol Hill testimony from Ivy League university presidents about campus antisemitism.

Ohio Capital Journal previously reported that Kent State Student Body President Julie Buonaiuto testified against Senate Bill 83, calling indoctrination a nonexistent problem.

Demetriou’s adaptive mobility bill passes

In other news, a bill which creates a standard for the sale of adaptive mobility vehicles passed in the House on Dec. 6. House Bill 195 was introduced by Demetriou and Sean Patrick Brennan, D-Parma, according to a news release.

An adaptive mobility vehicle dealer retrofits vehicles with equipment such as ramps, lifts and locks so that a driver or passenger using a wheelchair or scooter can enter and be secured. Currently in Ohio, AMV dealers operate in a legal gray area with no license established for those who modify vehicles, the news release states.

Demetriou said that licensing adaptive mobility dealers assures “this specialty equipment is installed properly for the safety of the vehicle occupants.”

Dealers would have to obtain a license from the state and follow laws similar to those other dealers face.

The legislation passed 89-1 in the House and will head to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.

Other news

  • The Ohio Democratic Party on Dec. 9 endorsed Rep. Emilia Sykes, D-Akron. The party says it wants to protect its incumbents as control of the U.S. House is on the line in 2024.
  • U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce, who represents Ohio’s five northeasternmost counties, including Portage, announced Dec. 1 that he is cosponsor of bipartisan legislation that reauthorizes a federal program concerned with monitoring, forecasting, preventing and mitigating harmful algal blooms (HABs) and hypoxia in bodies of water. Companion legislation has been introduced in the Senate. Blue-green algae blooms are a frequent occurrence in Lake Erie and can harm humans and animals; they can be caused by extreme weather events or runoff from lawns and farms, federal scientists say.
Mary Kay Quinn
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