If elected Ohio’s next governor, John Cranley has an ambitious goal of creating 120,000 new jobs that pay at least $60,000 per year to help expand the state’s middle class. And he wants to do it in four years.
But the gubernatorial primary candidate for the Democratic ticket is banking on legalizing adult-use cannabis in the state to help get it done.
Announcing his run for office in August, Cranley said 30,000 of the new jobs he hopes to create would be through projects aimed at advancing manufacturing, adding high-speed broadband, and investing in a new energy economy, cleaner water, and safer roads and bridges.
“And when we legalize marijuana, we will use the money to pay for it,” he said.
More specifically, Cranley’s campaign website states he “will pay for these jobs by reprioritizing JobsOhio money, legalizing and taxing recreational marijuana, and utilizing existing capital improvement funds and annual line items as debt service for the additional bonds needed for rapidly achieving universal broadband, clean water, and safer roads.”
In addition, Cranley’s criminal justice reform policy includes decriminalizing cannabis use statewide so that laws are not “unfairly applied to communities of color across Ohio.”
But Cranley, who served as Cincinnati’s mayor from December 2013 to January 2022, has a long road to go before accomplishing those goals, including two elections before attempting to make good on his promises.
In the primary election scheduled for May 3, Cranley is running against Nan Whaley, who served as Dayton’s mayor from January 2014 to January 2022. According to Emerson College pollsters, the two candidates were tied with each garnering the support of 15.7% of likely voters, while 68.6% of likely voters remained undecided as of late February.
Although Whaley doesn’t outline a cannabis policy on her campaign website, she said in an October 2021 social media post, “I’ve long been a supporter of marijuana legalization, so I’m glad it is finally getting some bipartisan support.”
Her remarks were in regard to House Bill 498, the Ohio Adult Use Act, which was formally introduced by Republican Reps. Jamie Callender and Ron Ferguson in December.
Among many provisions, the proposed legislation would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 50 grams of cannabis. Also, it would impose a 10% excise tax on adult-use cannabis and cannabis products, with funding dedicated to combat chemical dependence and illegal drug trafficking, and support the state’s general revenue fund.
That proposal came on the heels of Democratic Reps. Casey Weinstein and Terrence Upchurch introducing House Bill 382 in September. That legislation would allow adults 21 and older to buy and possess up to 5 ounces of cannabis and also aims to levy a 10% cannabis excise tax on retailers, with the revenue to be distributed, in part, to secondary education and road infrastructure.
Democratic gubernatorial hopeful Cranley intends to draw from that proposed cannabis tax revenue included in any forthcoming legislation as a means to execute his jobs plan.
In neighboring state Michigan, which has a similar population, adult-use cannabis sales generated more than $200 million in sales taxes and excise taxes in fiscal 2021, according to the state’s Marijuana Regulatory Agency. The cannabis excise tax is 10% in Michigan.
At the state level, Republican lawmakers are split in the Ohio General Assembly, with 43% saying adult-use cannabis should be legalized and 43% saying it should not (14% are undecided), according to a recent Gongwer Werth Legislative Opinion Poll from November 2021. Meanwhile, 36% of Democrats in the Ohio Legislature are in favor of adult-use legalization, 14% are opposed and 50% remain undecided.
Regardless, opposition from leadership in the state Legislature as well as from current Ohio Republican Gov. Mike DeWine have posed challenges for adult-use legalization in the Buckeye State.
Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said last month that he won’t act on calendaring a citizen-led proposal to legalize adult-use cannabis for floor debate in the upper chamber.
“I don’t want anybody to misunderstand my position,” Huffman said. “I’m not going to bring it to the Senate floor. And if that means people want to go put it on the ballot, have at it.”
The legalization proposal Huffman opposed stems from a citizen-led effort by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, which met a 132,877-signature threshold to put its petition before state lawmakers, the Ohio Secretary of State announced in January.
With the Ohio General Assembly unlikely to consider that proposal by its mid-May deadline, the coalition is tasked with gathering another 132,877 signatures by early July for the opportunity to present the issue to Ohio voters on the Nov. 8, 2022, ballot.
As recently as January, DeWine said he opposed legalizing adult-use cannabis. The incumbent held a 14-point lead on his nearest Republican primary challenger in Emerson’s February poll.