COLUMBUS, Ohio — The topic of legalizing recreational marijuana in Ohio is drawing a strong reaction once again as Statehouse Democrats say they plan to introduce legislation next week.
"The time is now to do this. The public's ready for it," said Rep. Casey Weinstein, D-Hudson.
Weinstein and fellow Northeast Ohio Democrat Terrence Upchurch, D-Cleveland, are backing a bill that would make growing and selling marijuana for recreational use legal in Ohio.
"We've got great case studies that we've built this legislation off of best practices on," said Weinstein.
There are four main parts to the bill: decriminalization, an excise tax, commerce and licensing and medical marijuana.
First, adults 21 and older could grow up to 12 plants, carry as much as five ounces and paraphernalia and/or sell limited amounts of marijuana. Cities and towns would have the final say on those amounts. Also, anyone convicted for growing or selling weed would have their records cleared.
"The criminal justice angle is just doing right by a community that was disproportionately negatively impacted by really bad marijuana laws. And what this does is give them a fresh start to rejoin the workforce and rejoin the marijuana industry, join the marijuana industry on the regulated, taxed, legal side," Weinstein said.
A 10% excise tax would be collected with the proceeds going to education, repairing roads and bridges and local governments. For two years, $20 million a year would go to clinical research trials dedicated to treating veterans and preventing veteran suicide.
Third, the Ohio Department of Commerce would oversee distribution, sales and licenses of retailers, processors, transporters and facilities.
Finally, the bill would keep the state's medical marijuana program intact and give growers and sellers the chance to get a recreational license as well.
"The reality is the benefits in terms of economic benefits, revenues going to local communities, medical benefits far vastly outweigh any negative side effects," said Weinstein.
Aaron Baer, president of the nonprofit Center For Christian Virtue, which focuses on conservative values, disagrees.
Baer argues the 21 and older standard does not deter kids from getting their hands on alcohol, so it may not work for weed either. Also, Baer said marijuana is a gateway drug.
"The question for the sponsors of this bill is how can they justify wanting more children using drugs, more drug-related car accidents and fatalities, especially where already in Ohio we see drug overdoses spiking over this last year," said Baer.
Baer also said when it comes to criminal records, that conversation should be kept separate.
"If people wanna talk criminal justice reform, that's one topic altogether that can be addressed and I think there's a lot of folks that would agree there's some issues we can address there," Baer said.
The bill could be a long shot to become law. Not only did Ohioans reject the idea back in 2015, but Gov. Mike DeWine, R-Ohio, has not previously supported legalization.
"I hope this adds a lot of momentum and helps him understand when he sees the outpouring of support from moving this bill through the process that it's time to legalize," said Weinstein.