Ohio voters approved a measure legalizing recreational marijuana on Tuesday, defying Republican legislative leaders who had failed to pass the proposed law.
Passage of Issue 2 makes Ohio the 24th state to allow adult cannabis use for non-medical purposes. About 56% of voters were supporting the measure with most of the vote counted.
Voters in the state also approved a constitutional amendment that guarantees the right to abortion and other forms of reproductive health care.
“Marijuana is no longer a controversial issue,” said Tom Haren, spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol. “Ohioans demonstrated this by passing State Issue 2 in a landslide. Ohioans are being extremely clear on the future they want for our state: adult-use marijuana legal and regulated.”
The new law will allow adults 21 and over to buy and possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and to grow plants at home. A 10% tax will be imposed on purchases, to be spent on administrative costs, addiction treatment, municipalities with dispensaries and social equity and jobs programs supporting the industry itself.
Ohio will be the fourth largest state with a recreational pot market, with sales predicted to reach $4 billion by the fourth year after its launch. The decision will likely put pressure on neighboring states including Indiana.
The election’s outcome represents a blow to GOP lawmakers, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine and business and manufacturing organizations concerned about its impact on workplace and traffic safety.
But as a citizen-initiated statute, the law is subject to change. Republicans who remain opposed to it in the Legislature are free to make tweaks to the law — or even repeal it, though the political stakes are higher now that the voters have approved it.
Among concerns raised by opponents that lawmakers may revisit is the measure’s tax structure, which earmarks none of the earnings for Ohio counties that administer social services programs directed at drug use, addiction and other issues that could rise due to Issue 2’s passage.
“This fight is not over,” Smart Approaches to Marijuana Action President Kevin Sabet said in a statement. He called on state lawmakers to eliminate provisions of Issue 2 that allow for commercial sales, advertising and production, at a minimum.
For the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, voter approval marked the culmination of the proposal’s yearslong fight to become law.
GOP Secretary of State Frank LaRose first submitted petitions to the Ohio General Assembly on behalf of the coalition in January 2022, triggering a four-month countdown for lawmakers to act. Republican legislative leaders didn’t, and lawmakers asserted the group’s petitions arrived too late for 2022 ballots.
A lawsuit and settlement ensued, under which the group agreed to wait until this year.
Ohio’s decision was the latest victory for abortion rights supporters since the U.S. Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year. About 58% of voters approved the measure.
Ohio became the seventh state where voters decided to protect abortion access after the landmark ruling and was the only state to consider a statewide abortion rights question this year.
“The future is bright, and tonight we can celebrate this win for bodily autonomy and reproductive rights,” Lauren Blauvelt, co-chair of Ohioans United for Reproductive Rights, which led support for the amendment, told a jubilant crowd of supporters.
The outcome of the intense, off-year election could be a bellwether for 2024, when Democrats hope the issue will energize their voters and help President Joe Biden keep the White House. Voters in Arizona, Missouri and elsewhere are expected to vote on similar protections next year.
Heather Williams, interim president of the Democratic Legislative Campaign Committee, which works to elect Democrats to state legislatures, said the vote in favor of abortion rights was a “huge victory.”
“Ohio’s resounding support for this constitutional amendment reaffirms Democratic priorities and sends a strong message to the state GOP that reproductive rights are non-negotiable,” she said in a statement.
President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris issued statements celebrating the amendment’s win, emphasizing that attempts to ban or severely restrict abortion represent a minority view across the country. Harris hinted at how the issue would likely be central to Democrats’ campaigning next year for Congress and the presidency, saying “extremists are pushing for a national abortion ban that would criminalize reproductive health care in every single state in our nation.”
Ohio’s constitutional amendment, on the ballot as Issue 1, included some of the most protective language for abortion access of any statewide ballot initiative since the Supreme Court’s ruling. Opponents had argued that the amendment would threaten parental rights, allow unrestricted gender surgeries for minors and revive “partial birth” abortions, which are federally banned.
Public polling shows about two-thirds of Americans say abortion should generally be legal in the earliest stages of pregnancy, a sentiment that has been underscored in both Democratic and deeply Republican states since the justices overturned Roe in June 2022.
Before the Ohio vote, statewide initiatives in California, Kansas, Kentucky, Michigan, Montana and Vermont had either affirmed abortion access or turned back attempts to undermine the right.