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Callender, Ferguson eager to sway skeptical GOP leaders on pot legalization

Written on Oct 14, 2021

Reps. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) and Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) are embracing the challenge of persuading their fellow Republicans that marijuana should be legalized for adults aged 21 and older.

“This, to my knowledge, is the first majority party sponsored legislation for adult use. That does not mean leadership is on board. The leadership in both chambers has expressed their skepticism, we’ll say, in a polite way. But they’re giving us the chance to explain and advocate as to why this is the right policy, and why it’s right to do it now,” Callender said during a Statehouse press conference.

Callender said many people are underestimating how many Republican lawmakers support marijuana legalization.

“There is more bipartisan support than most people would think. The fact that there’s two of us standing here … an older legislator who’s been around a while, a freshman legislator who is new to the process, suburban, rural. We’re showing that there’s a breadth of majority party support for this,” Callender said, adding that there are Republican senators considering introducing a companion bill. “I’m not going to use names now. I’ll let them come out on their own time.”

Callender said younger Republicans are more likely to publicly support marijuana legalization, but noted there are older legislators who quietly favor the policy.

“A number of them have said they’ll vote for it in committee or on the floor, even if they don’t co-sponsor it. There is some stigma, and that’s part of why I’m standing here, is to try to break that stigma and say, ‘Hey, this is where we are now,’” Callender said.

Responding to a question from Hannah News, Callender said he’s always been in favor of marijuana legalization, and that it was one of the primary reasons he returned to the Legislature.

“It’s not sensible that we treat alcohol and marijuana differently. I think I’ve always felt that way,” Callender said.

“I think the time is right. When I decided to come back three years ago and run again, I had a list of four or five issues that were my motivation to run. One of them was to fix school funding, which we accomplished this year, even though everybody said it was impossible. One of them was eliminating the front license plate, and we were told that was impossible. That’s done. Another one on the list was adult use marijuana,” he continued. “This is doable. It’s about personal freedom. It’s about moving the state and the country forward. It’s about going where people are going anyway. … The vast majority of Ohioans are in support of this already.”

Callender said the legislation has been in the works for about a year, and that he and Ferguson are currently in the process of gathering co-sponsor support.

The “Ohio Adult Use Act” would expand Ohio’s current medical marijuana program to include non-medicinal adult use, Callender said, noting all current Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP) license holders would immediately be eligible to participate in the program, which would be renamed the Division of Marijuana Control. Callender said expanding the current program, instead of creating a whole new program, while allow everything to be set up more efficiently. He also praised the Ohio Department of Commerce for its handling of the MMCP so far, saying that agency is more than capable of handling the adult use program as well.

Other non-medical businesses will also be eligible for licenses, Callender and Ferguson said, adding that they aren’t sure whether there should be a license cap. They said they would prefer to allow the free market to work, but will consider the input of other lawmakers on that issue.

Callender said the bill would impose a 10 percent sales tax on marijuana and marijuana products, with 50 percent of the revenue going to the General Revenue Fund without restrictions, 25 percent going to mental health and addiction services and 25 percent going to law enforcement.

“This is an issue of individual rights, and there is strong public support for responsible laws allowing those 21 and over to legally purchase and use marijuana and marijuana products,” Ferguson said. “We believe it’s important that Ohio’s adult-use program be secure and responsible, from seed to sale.”

Callender said the bill would allow for individuals to grow six plants at home, with only two blooming at the same time.

The bill also includes language allowing past marijuana offenders to have their records expunged, Callender said.

The bill also includes language seeking to prevent the state of Ohio from “discriminating against individuals engaged in legal, adult use of marijuana who are seeking licensure from the state without jeopardizing employer choice or worker safety,” according to the lawmakers’ offices.

Many of the details, such as possession limits and THC limits, will be addressed as the bill moves through the committee process, Callender said.

The Democratic-sponsored marijuana legalization bill, HB382 (Weinstein-Upchurch), has been referred to the House Finance Committee.

Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) told Hannah News that he’s looking forward to working with Callender and Ferguson on the issue, although he prefers the revenue distribution model in the bill he and Rep. Terrence Upchurch (D-Cleveland) proposed.

“I wish he would’ve reached out to talk about a bipartisan effort. We were certainly open to doing that with our bill. But at the same time I’m happy that he’s put this forward,” Weinstein said. “I think it creates momentum toward legalization, which is really what I want. I don’t care who gets credit.”

Callender and Ferguson were joined at the press conference by Gerald Moore Jr., a former Ohio University football player now with Green Environmental Outreach and Athletes & Cannabis, and Cardi Campbell, general manager PharmaCann’s Buckeye Lake facility. Both expressed support for the efforts of Callender and Ferguson to legalize marijuana for adult use.

This feature was provided by Hannah News Service and selected for you by OSCPA Government Relations staff.