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Let’s Be Blunt: Should Ohio Employers Worry About Issue 2?

Ohioans will soon have the opportunity to vote on whether or not the Buckeye state will join 23 other states in legalizing recreational marijuana. Seven other states will have similar measures on their November ballot this year. If all of them pass, nearly 2/3 of U.S. states will have some form of legal, recreational marijuana.

Ohio’s proposal was born from the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, and would create a new government program and infrastructure for adults (21+) to buy, sell, grow and use cannabis. The ballot measure wouldn’t be a constitutional amendment, meaning the legislature could make changes to the proposed rule if it passes. This measure was initially set to appear on the Ohio’s 2022 ballot, but cannabis industry leaders were entangled in a dispute with government officials on the interpretation of the initiated statue process. The proponents of the bill argue that Ohio is missing the boat on tax revenue that would come from the sale of non-medical use marijuana for adults. Patients of Ohio’s medical marijuana program currently only pay the standard 5.75% sales tax. The proposition would be to collect an additional 10% sales tax that would be used for things like social equity & job programs, state efforts to address substance abuse, and supporting municipalities that are home to dispensaries. 

States like Colorado have collected over $2 billion in taxes since 2014 from both sales and excise taxes. They’ve used the influx to fund everything from full-day kindergarten in public schools to grants to help repair or replace aging education facilities in the state. The changes can also create a more competitive marketplace by encouraging more purveyors and retailers – and would create more affordable options for patients who qualify for the medical program, but find it cost-prohibitive.

So, what does this all mean for Ohio employers? The same thing that medical marijuana meant, which is that public and private employers are still able to set and enforce their own rules regarding use and testing. Businesses won’t be forced to hire marijuana users, and can still discipline those employees for positive drug screens. Some employers in states with both medical and recreational marijuana programs have chosen to continue drug testing programs, but omit the panel that tests for marijuana. This can be an option for employers without commercial drivers adhering to DOT standards, and most private employers who don’t engage in government contract work.

You can read the full proposed ballot language here.

In related news, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) made their recommendation to the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) that marijuana be downgraded from a Schedule I drug to a Schedule III drug. For those unfamiliar with the DEA’s scheduling of illicit drugs and medications, there are five classes, ranked based on legitimate medical use and potential for dependency. Marijuana currently shares Schedule I with other drugs like heroin, Ecstasy, and LSD. Schedule II drugs are considered lower risk than Schedule I, and include drugs like OxyContin and Fentanyl, which have caused hundreds of thousands of deaths in the U.S alone.

If HHS succeeds in the DEA adopting this change, marijuana will share a category with other drugs with a moderate to low risk for abuse and dependence, such as low-dose codeine, ketamine and anabolic steroids. A very recent report from the Congressional Research Service states that the DEA is “likely” to approve the recommendation, based on the DEA’s agreement to reclassify a synthetic THC medication called Marinol in 1999. While this would have widespread impact, there’s not really a clear timeline on the decision. If and when the DEA concurs with HHS and suggests the change to federal laws, there would be a public comment period of 30-60 days which the DEA would be required to review and respond to accordingly.

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