News & Insights

Ohio AG Refuses to Certify Marijuana Legalization Law

By: Mira Baylson and Gianna Puccinelli

On the heels of our piece from last week about the value of seeking state attorneys general (AG) buy-in on draft legislation, Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost (R) rejected a petition submission for a proposed law that would legalize the recreational use of marijuana in the state.  The “Act to Control and Regulate Adult Use Cannabis,” penned by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol (the “Coalition”), would permit individuals over the age of 21 to buy, possess, grow and use marijuana, among other things.  But, the first step in passing such a law was to submit a summary of same, which must include a “fair and truthful statement of the proposed law,” to the AG for certification.  Ohio Revised Code (“ORC”) Section 3519.01(A).  In a letter rejecting the language, AG Yost found that the summary of the proposed law did not meet that standard.

AG Yost identified seven fatal omissions from the summary in his letter and cautions that “this is not intended to be an exhaustive list of all defects in the submitted summary.”  The omissions include the extent of the Division of Cannabis Control’s rule-making authority and its authority to regulate licensure, as well as its reporting obligations to financial institutions.  Additionally, AG Yost noted that the summary does not explain the protections for individuals engaging in conduct protected by the proposed law, including the distinction between the number of marijuana plants that an individual may “possess” versus the number of marijuana plants that an individual may “cultivate.”

While AG Yost’s rejection of the petition submission is by no means fatal to the proposed law, his letter did signal that the road ahead may not be easy.  For example, the next step after the AG’s certification would be for the Ohio Ballot Board to determine that the proposed law only contains one law, rather than multiple laws.  ORC Section 3519(A).  AG Yost’s letter appeared to signal to the Ballot Board that the proposed law “does not seek to enact a single law, rather, it seeks to add an entire chapter to the Ohio Revised Code.”  Assuming the Ballot Board allows the initiative to move forward, the Coalition must still gather the necessary signatures to submit the proposed law to the Ohio General Assembly, and, if the General Assembly fails to act, the Coalition would be forced to gather even more signatures to put the proposed law on the ballot.

Attorney General Yost’s letter doomed the petition in its current form.  Yet, if the Coalition wants to get their bill to the General Assembly, they must remain committed to working with the AG’s office.  Certainly, as we advised last week, the easiest path to success for Ohio’s supporters of marijuana legalization would be to pay special attention to the AG’s feedback on the proposed law, to ensure that the next time they submit the law to the AG, he does not continue to signal the law’s shortcomings to other members of government that will control its fate.