Ohio on Tuesday became the 24th state to legalize recreational use of marijuana, after voters in the Republican-leaning state backed a move that has increasingly gained traction beyond more-liberal parts of the country.
More than 2.1 million Ohio voters, or 57 percent, supported the legalization effort, according to unofficial results from state election officials. The new law legalizes adult use of marijuana and creates a state system to license, tax and regulate it.
It is a marked shift from 2015, when voters in the state rejected a plan that would have essentially limited commercial licenses for growing marijuana to the wealthy people backing the legalization effort.
Eight years later, advocates in Ohio rode momentum from legalization wins in several Republican-leaning states, including Alaska in 2015, Montana in 2021 and Missouri in 2022.
In 2012, Colorado and Washington became the first states to legalize recreational marijuana use through ballot initiatives. Other states dominated by Democrats have legalized it more recently, including New York in 2021.
The District of Columbia decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana in 2015.
One group backing the effort in Ohio this year sought to frame marijuana as a substance similar to ones already legal and regulated by the state, such as alcohol. Regulate Marijuana Just Like Alcohol even played into the state’s longtime rivalry with the Midwest sports powerhouse next door, Michigan.
One video from the group was designed to look like a postcard from Morenci, a small Michigan town just over the Ohio border that the narrator says is “booming,” with only 2,000 people but five marijuana shops that serve lots of Ohio residents.
“That means Michigan gets to keep all the tax revenue for schools, roads and more,” the narrator says.
Paul Armentano, deputy director for NORML, which advocates for marijuana legalization nationally, said in a statement that “cannabis legalization is an issue that unites Democrats, Republicans, and Independents.”
Armentano also noted that because the measure passed as a statutory question, rather than a constitutional amendment, state legislators can still amend, or even repeal, the marijuana proposal.
“It is imperative that elected officials respect the voters’ decision and implement this measure in a manner that is consistent with the sentiments of the majority of the electorate,” Armentano said.