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Recreational marijuana could be financial boon for Ohio, industry lawyer says

Stephen Lenn stands behind a podium on a stage at the Akron Roundtable.
Abigail Bottar
Ideastream Public Media
Stephen Lenn spoke about cannabis going mainstream at the Akron Roundtable on Nov. 16, 2023.

Legalization of recreational marijuana could be a financial boon for Ohio, according to an Arizona lawyer who represents clients in the cannabis industry.

With the passage of Issue 2 in November, Ohio is joining 23 states that have legalized recreational marijuana, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. A report from Ohio State University estimated that by the fifth year of legalized recreational marijuana, the state could be bringing in $276 million to $403 million in tax revenue.

Stephen Lenn has worked in the marijuana industry since 2015, guiding clients as states have navigated what legalization means for the economy. He thinks legalizing recreational marijuana is a trend that is here to stay.

"I'm not aware of a single state in which there's a viable repeal movement going on," Lenn said, "and obviously, if there were big problems coming up, we'd see some of that."

Movement toward legalizing marijuana on the federal level, like no longer classifying marijuana as a schedule 1 drug, could help the industry, Lenn said.

“Once that rescheduling happens, it’ll have a significant economic impact on the industry," he explained, "because it will change the taxation.”

Ohio can expect $1.5 billion to $2.5 billion in revenue the first year, Lenn said. He believes legalization in Ohio will lead to job growth.

“In Ohio current employment is about 7,000 in the legal cannabis industry," Lenn said. "Based on what happened in Michigan and Illinois after adult use was authorized, that number is probably going to increase between 20,000 and 30,000.”

But he cautioned about potential problems.

“In California a couple years ago, it was estimated that for every legal storefront in Los Angeles, there were four illegal storefronts," Lenn said.

Lenn encouraged law enforcement agencies in Ohio to work with the marijuana industry to lift up legal businesses.

"Historically the industry has basically said to law enforcement, 'Stay away from us. Leave us alone,'" he said. "But now, we need law enforcement, and we need law enforcement to begin making it easier for legal businesses to succeed."

Both the industry and the state should be concerned about illegal businesses, Lenn said.

"This is not only of interest to the industry, it's also of interest to the states," he said, "because if there's $100 million of illegal sales that could be taxed, states are losing big bucks."

You can hear Stephen Lenn speak at the Akron Roundtable next Thursday at 8:00 pm on WKSU.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.