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Ohio could become latest state to legalize abortion, marijuana

Ohio could join Kansas and Kentucky among Republican-leaning states to enshrine abortion rights in law.
Ohio could become latest state to legalize abortion, marijuana
Posted at 11:21 AM, Nov 01, 2023

Ohio voters will decide Tuesday on two ballot initiatives to change state laws: reproductive rights and recreational marijuana. Issue 1, which involves abortion and reproductive rights, is considered a constitutional amendment, while Issue 2 would simply change the law through the Ohio Revised Code.

To pass, the initiatives need a simple majority. 

In August, voters rejected a proposal that would have raised the threshold to 60% to amend the state's constitution through a ballot initiative. Had that vote passed, Issue 1 would have needed 60% to become law.

SEE MORE: Abortion votes are causing a divide on state ballots across the US

Issue 1 would expand abortion access

After the Supreme Court overturned Roe v. Wade last year, Ohio triggered a law that essentially prohibits an abortion after the sixth week of a pregnancy. That law, however, has been held up in the courts, and it's unclear what would happen if the courts overturn the law. 

Ohio Attorney General David Yost has represented the state in trying to get the ban on abortions after six weeks of pregnancy through the courts. 

The bill would allow doctors to legally perform abortions up until "fetal viability," which is defined as "the point in a pregnancy when, in the professional judgment of the pregnant patient’s treating physician, the fetus has a significant likelihood of survival outside the uterus with reasonable measures." Fetal viability varies, but this standard would generally permit abortions up through at least 21 or 22 weeks of a pregnancy, Yost's office said. 

Advocates for Issue 1 say it goes beyond abortions, claiming it enshrines a host of reproductive rights, including contraception, fertility treatment, miscarriage care and continuing pregnancy. 

According to the petitioners' committee behind Issue 1, more than 4,000 doctors, nurses and faith leaders back the amendment. 

"Ohioans know that no matter how you feel about abortion personally, government should not have the power to make these personal medical decisions for the people you love," the petitioners wrote.

Those opposing the bill include Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, who won reelection last year with 62% of the vote. 

Republican state Sens. Kristina Roegner and Michele Reynolds and State Rep. Melanie Miller wrote the official opposition to the bill.

"Issue 1 is a dangerous attack on the unborn, women, and parents," the lawmakers wrote. "It’s an extreme attempt to create abortion-on-demand and to eliminate reasonable health and safety standards for pregnant women. It ends parental notification and excludes parents from their child’s medical decisions."

Opponents also have criticized Issue 1 for removing a provision that requires doctors inform parents before performing an abortion on someone underage.

SEE MORE: Is marijuana banking reform on the way?

Issue 2 would legalize recreational marijuana

Eight years after Ohioans soundly rejected a referendum to legalize marijuana, weed proponents are once again going to voters asking for their support. 

In 2015, over 63% of voters rejected a proposal to legalize recreational marijuana. In addition to legalizing pot, it would have only allowed 10 predetermined locations to grow plants for commercial use. 

The proposal on the current ballot would allow Ohioans over age 21 to possess up to 2.5 ounces of weed without penalty. It would also permit Ohioans to grow marijuana at home. 

Currently, possession of small amounts of marijuana is a minor misdemeanor. 

Proponents say the proposal would come with rigorous government oversight while ending a black market for marijuana. From 2017-19, 15% of Ohioans reported using marijuana, according to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. 

"Our current marijuana laws can ruin lives based on one mistake. This measure will end unfairly harsh punishments for minor marijuana offenses, freeing local law enforcement to focus on serious, violent, and unsolved crimes," wrote the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

In the official opposition to the proposal, state Sens. Terry Johnson and Mark Romanchuk, and State Rep. William Seitz say Issue 2 "legalizes an addiction-for-profit industry." 

"This is simply a move to commercialize marijuana for billions in profit. It’s today’s version of Big Tobacco. We can’t trust this industry. More time and research is needed. A better plan is needed. Let’s not rush a decision that we’ll later regret," they write.

Ohio legalized marijuana for medical purposes in 2016.

What does polling show?

An October poll from Baldwin Wallace University indicates a majority of likely voters supporting both Issues 1 and 2. The poll indicated that 58% of likely voters — including 89% of Democrats and 39% of Republicans — support Issue 1. 

The same poll showed 57% of likely Ohio voters in favor of Issue 2, including 66% of Democrats and 50% of Republicans. 

"The majorities of respondents in these demographics favoring Issue 1 and Issue 2 indicate a strong likelihood of a majority vote for both ballot issues in November," said Dr. Tom Sutton, political science professor at Baldwin Wallace.

The polling also shows why the August ballot initiative was potentially important in deciding the fate of Issue 1.

How Ohio's constitutional amendments work

Ohio lawmakers don't have the direct power to amend the state's constitution; that has to be done by voters. Constitutional amendments supersede the Ohio Revised Code, meaning if Issue 1 passes, lawmakers would have little say in future abortion and reproductive rights policies. 

Whereas if Issue 2 passes, it can be altered in the General Assembly. 

But getting on the ballot was easier for marijuana proponents than abortion rights advocates. Issue 2 needed signatures from 3% of electors from the 2022 gubernatorial election to reach the ballot. Issue 1 required signatures equaling 10% of last year's gubernatorial vote.

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