In a stunning reversal, Ohio’s GOP-controlled Senate passed a revised bill that in many ways would expand the voter-approved marijuana legalization law that goes into effect on Thursday—by allowing adults to start buying cannabis from existing medical dispensaries in as soon as 90 days, maintaining home cultivation rights and providing for automatic expungements of prior convictions, among other changes.
Just days after the Senate General Government Committee advanced legislation to fundamentally undo key provisions of the cannabis initiative voters passed at the ballot last month—proposing to eliminate the home grow option and delaying legalization for at least one year until adult-use retailers started sales, for example—the panel dramatically walked back the measure and passed it in a unanimous bipartisan voice vote on Wednesday.
The full Senate then approved the legislation in a vote of 28-2.
Although the Senate has moved quickly to institute changes to the legalization law before it takes effect on Thursday, it is not clear if the House is also ready to make any reforms on an expedited basis—meaning that one form of legal cannabis could take effect this week only to potentially be reformed within a matter of days.
The overhaul of the measure comes one day after the Senate panel held a hearing and received public testimony on the initial proposal, with many advocates and stakeholders expressing frustration with the seeming undermining of voters’ decision and recommending changes such as freeing up medical cannabis dispensaries to start servicing adult consumers while regulators develop rules to license recreational retailers.
Sen. Rob McColley (R) detailed the latest changes following negotiations during an extensive recess in committee on Wednesday, stating that lawmakers’ focus “needs to be stamping out the black market” and also “protecting the access that the people of Ohioans voted for,” while ensuring that the administrative implementation “runs as efficiently as it possibly can, while protecting opportunities for for Ohioans to engage in this new industry.”
Committee Chairman Michael Rulli (R) said that over “the last three or four days, a lot of the public has reached out to probably every single one of our senators with thousands of emails and hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of calls.”
“I think the people have spoken,” he said.
Rather than do away with home cultivation, the committee-approved legislation would maintain adults’ right to grow up to six plants per person, though it would cap the household limit at six plants rather than 12 as set by the initiated statute.