COLUMBUS, Ohio — April 20 — or World Weed Day — was the perfect day for Ohio lawmakers to introduce a new recreational marijuana bill.
The unofficial holiday, 4/20, is a day when smokers celebrate the drug. It is also when Cannabis Lobby Day took place at the Ohio Statehouse.
Juan Collado with the Sensible Movement Coalition is just one of the hundreds of thousands of Ohioans for the legalization of recreational weed.
"We're very pro-cannabis in the family," Collado said. "I mean, the suit says a lot."
Collado was donned in a head-to-toe marijuana leaf suit (In case you are curious, he got it from Amazon, $50).
"I want to show that I'm supporting and I'm here for it," he added.
Early in the morning, Representatives Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) and Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) invited News 5 to join them as they filed bill language to formally introduce the Act to Control and Regulate Adult Use Cannabis. This is the initiated statute sponsored by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.
This comes after the Coalition submitted a petition that received about 207,000 signatures, surpassing the amount needed to move forward in the process to make it a ballot initiative.
"We're taking matters into our own hands and we are today filing a bill that will be responsive to the voters, the hundreds of thousands who signed those petitions and the millions who agree with them that it's time to legalize," Weinstein said. "We think it's time to heed the will of the voters. We think this time has come for Ohio, and we're ready to take some action on it today."
This Act would allow for cultivation, possession of up to 2.5 ounces, and use by adults ages 21-years-old and older.
"This is one of those moments where it's time to be bold — it's time to stand up, take action now," Upchurch said. "The good thing about our democracy is if our elected representatives move too slow, the people have the ability to move faster."
If the General Assembly fails to pass the language within the four-month deadline of the initiative submission, which was Jan. 28, the Coalition has the option to collect additional signatures to submit the proposal directly to the voters in November. That deadline is May 28. They would need about 130,000 more signatures to get it on the ballot, but they can't do anything until the deadline passes.
"We're sending a message today to GOP leadership here and to the voters of Ohio," Weinstein added.
Although the bill has bipartisan support, the lawmakers aren't happy with the GOP leadership, they said. They have barely responded to the ballot initiative, they added.
"I think there are some concerns based upon misconception and misinformation," Upchurch said. "I think that that's been the job of Representative Weinstein and I as we introduced our bill last year, which was to inform voters and inform Ohioans why this is important and why Ohio is missing the mark."
The pair introduced House Bill (HB) 382 in July 2021, making it the first legislative effort to legalize cannabis in Ohio. HB 382 still hasn't had its first hearing.
"As it relates to recreational marijuana, I'm not in favor of it," Senate President Matt Huffman said to the press in February. "I'm not going to vote for it, I'm not going to support it."
John Fortney, Huffman's spokesperson, said that Huffman's view hasn't changed.
"I don't want anybody to misunderstand my position — I'm not going to bring it to the Senate floor," Huffman continued. "If that means people want to go put it on the ballot, have at it."
Gov. Mike DeWine has not been a fan of the drug either. He did receive the Democrats' marijuana bill and he is reviewing it, his spokesperson Dan Tierney said.
"I'd be remiss without pointing out that historically the governor has not had favorable views on the legalization of recreational marijuana," the spokesperson said.
A lot of this stems from the governor's trip to Colorado when he was attorney general, according to Tierney. He visited a few years after the state's historic 2012 passage.
Officials warned DeWine that there had been a large increase in "driving while drugged," and that an increased amount of children had to go to the hospital due to accidentally consuming edibles, Tierney said.
"Edibles are often in dessert form, you know, gummy bears, as a high selling item in Colorado," he said. "They're generally not marked in such a way that kids know the difference."
There were 266 calls to the Colorado Poison Center about exposure to marijuana in 2018, according to data from the Rocky Mountain Poison and Drug Center in Denver. More than half of those exposures were children aged 0-18. About 40% of the exposure cases involved an edible. Of that number, edible exposures in children 0-5 years old increased by nearly 80% from 2016 (26) to 2018 (46).
It is important to put those numbers into context. About 28% of Coloradans use cannabis, according to a Statista survey. There are about 5,812,069 people in the state, according to the Census. That is roughly 1,627,380 users. The 46 children exposed to edibles in 2018 represents 0.00282% of the state's 1.6 million marijuana users.
Colorado then banned certain types of edibles and their packaging in 2017, to limit children from possible exposure.
In regards to driving while high, the number of DUIs issued by the Colorado State Patrol in which marijuana-alone or marijuana-in-combination was recorded increased by 120% between 2014 (684) and 2020 (1,508), according to Colorado Division of Criminal Justice.
"The governor's also noted that in a lot of states, the initial revenue projections of recreational marijuana tend to be overstated," Tierney said. "There's just, you know, usually overly rosy projections of the market moving totally from what is currently contraband and illegal drug sales to legitimate sales — and so the revenue is never what is projected in these bills."
However, Pew Charitable Trusts found it difficultto accurately forecast revenue, citing the demand changes, price fluctuations and market development for cultivators.
Upchurch said that the benefits far outweigh anything else.
"We're talking about jobs, hundreds of thousands of jobs," he said. "We're talking about economic development, school funding — we've got spending formulas that will benefit local governments, schools, infrastructure and a variety of different benefits that come from profit shares of legalizing marijuana."
The act would also levy a 10% adult-use sales tax on products with revenue going toward purposes including substance abuse and addiction research, social equity and job creation, and directly to those communities with dispensaries.
"We're taking a big step for Ohioans and for Ohio," Weinstein said. "We're excited about it."
SCOOP: A new bill filed just moments ago by @RepWeinstein & @tupchurch216 officially introduced the Act to Control and Regulate Adult Use Cannabis.— Morgan Trau (@MorganTrau) April 20, 2022
If Legislature fails to pass the language before May 28, weed groups can collect signatures to submit proposal to voters in Nov. pic.twitter.com/wv08T6FoTR
This bill now awaits a number and committee assignment.
"I would throw a party and I don't even use cannabis — I don't smoke, I don't eat edibles — I don't do any of that I've never had in my life," Collado said. "A cannabis party for everybody, and maybe then I will use it then, when it is legal."
Follow WEWS and WCPO statehouse reporter Morgan Trau on Twitter and Facebook.