Female rolling a joint.
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As new regulation passes, Ohioans 21 and over will soon be able to purchase up to 2.5 ounces of recreational marijuana a day for personal use. But that won't stop many people from rolling a joint today.

The origins of 4/20 and why Ohioans are toking today

Summer is fast approaching, and this year Ohioans should be able to legally smoke recreational marijuana while enjoying the sunshine. That it's not possible yet to legally buy weed won't stop people from rolling a joint to celebrate 4/20.

Today is a favorite holiday among many cannabis enjoyers across America – April 20, or 4/20. Though the date does not have a clear origin, it still strikes up celebrations all over the United States, whether or not marijuana is legal in the state.

The sale of cannabis products is still not law in Ohio, but in November 2023, Ohio voted to become the 24th state to legalize the recreational use of marijuana. Ohio lawmakers have plans to implement the retail bill as soon as summer 2024, but that is unlikely to stop people from toking today.

Origins of 4/20

The first mention of “420” in connection with cannabis may have been in 1939. H.P. Lovecraft and Kenneth Sterling wrote in their story “In the Walls of Eryx” about “curious mirage-plants” that appeared to get the narrator high at 4:20, according to his watch.

Another theory is that 420 was once California police or penal code for marijuana use, but there is little evidence to back up this belief.

The most common, and likely, theory can be traced back to the 1970s, when a group of teenagers in California would meet after school to smoke a joint at 4:20 p.m. The group, who attended San Rafael High School, called the practise “420 Louie” and then just “420.” A few years later, a brother of one of the members became friends with Grateful Dead bassist Phil Lesh, and the slang spread.

The number “420” truly entered popular culture in the early 1990s when an unknown group passed out fliers at a Grateful Dead show, stating, “Meet at 4:20 on 4/20 for 420-ing in Marin County at the Bolinas Ridge sunset spot on Mt. Tamalpais.” A reporter for the cannabis magazine High Times, Steve Bloom, was handed one of these fliers and published it. 

Though the origins may be hazy, cannabis indulgers continue to celebrate the day year after year.

“It’s a phenomenon,” Steve Capper, one of the members of the original 420 group, once told The Associated Press. “Most things die within a couple years, but this just goes on and on.”

Where can Ohioans use and legally buy bud?

Currently, under Ohio’s new law passed in November, individuals 21 and over can legally possess up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and 15 grams of cannabis concentrate. Those with green thumbs can also grow up to six plants in their home, or as many as 12 if two or more adults live there.

Smoking cannabis-based products will be regulated similarly to how smoking cigarettes is already regulated, according to the Ohio Department of CommercePrivate recreational use of marijuana is already permitted under the law.

Smoking in public is a different issue. Smoking marijuana in enclosed areas open to the public is prohibited under the state's smoking ban, with some exceptions. Public use beyond that is less clear. Toking in "public areas" could land someone with a misdemeanor. But the law also gives property owners and "any public place" leeway to decide for themselves whether to allow marijuana use.

Smokers are not allowed to toke up in their cars or any other motor vehicle, and landlords are permitted to prohibit smoking as long as it is outlined in a lease agreement. Businesses are also permitted to continue drug testing their employees.

At the start of April, the Department of Cannabis Control (DCC) began releasing plans and regulations for recreational marijuana production and sales in Ohio. These new rules establish where dispensaries need to be located, as well as how they will work. Customers will need to be 21 and over and will be required to have an attendant with them at all times. The new rules also outline security requirements and regulations on cannabis disposal. 

Applications for dispensaries to sell recreational marijuana will be distributed on June 7, which means already open medical dispensaries could begin selling recreational cannabis a week later. Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord), the chairperson for the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR), stated they have plans to accept the new regulations on dual licensing at their next meeting on May 13.

“We could have retailers, recreational licensed retailers, in Ohio by mid-June,” Callender said. "We should begin to see legal recreational sales of marijuana in Ohio certainly before July 4th weekend."

What to expect from legal sales, including the tax

When recreational marijuana becomes available in shops later this year, regulations will govern its sale. A maximum of 2.5 ounces of cannabis flower and 15 grams of concentrate can be purchased by one person per day.

Something that may shock shoppers this summer is the tax that will show up on receipts. On top of a state and county tax, dispensaries will also be charging a 15% excise tax – known in this case as “cannabis tax.” This is a business tax that applies to products such as gasoline, alcohol and tobacco. This tax was originally only 10%, but was revised to 15% in December by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission.

The money accumulated from the cannabis tax will be put into the Marijuana Receipts Fund, where 30% will then be distributed into law enforcement training, 15% to marijuana substance abuse, treatment and prevention, and 10% to safe driver programs. The other 45% of this fund, as well as the excess from the other funds, will be given to Ohio’s General Revenue Fund (GRF) which finances public services and government operations.

Since the process of regulating recreational marijuana is a slow back-and-forth, it’s difficult to promise when dispensaries will be open, or what dispensaries will be available to visit. If you plan on partaking, stay up to date with announcements made by your local dispensaries this summer. You can find a full map of shops around Ohio here.

And, although it's still not possible to legally buy recreational marijuana in Ohio, don't be surprised if you smell weed burning on 4/20.