Ohio’s upcoming general election features Issue 2 on the ballot which, if passed, would legalize the recreational use of marijuana for Ohio residents over the age of 21. Currently, the state has legalized the use of medical marijuana, along with synthetic cannabinoids such as Delta-8, which can be found at some of Oxford’s vape shops.
However, the addition of recreational marijuana dispensaries likely won’t impact these shops — even the ones that sell Delta-8 products.
Marc Biales, owner of Wild Berry Incense, does not anticipate that many vape shops will receive the proper licensing to sell cannabis products in addition to nicotine currently sold.
“It’s going to be so highly regulated,” Biales said. “It’ll probably be available in stores where that’s all they sell.”
In addition to Wild Berry, VIP Smoke Shop manager Tommy Sheikh does not anticipate that his store will change their inventory should Issue 2 pass.
“We just sell nicotine products and some THC,” Sheikh said. “So it will be the same [after Issue 2].”
A senior business economics major, who wished to remain anonymous, said although she didn’t smoke recreationally or medicinally, she thinks making it illegal can have negative consequences.
“I don’t partake in that, but I don’t see why it’s illegal, especially when you make drugs like that illegal, it kind of ups the chance of it being laced with something,” she said.
Even without the legalization of recreational marijuana, the abundance of vape shops in Oxford brings some concern for the surrounding community. Jessica Greene, assistant city manager of Oxford, said that in order to address this, the city passed legislation in December to prevent new stores that sell tobacco from opening.
“We did pass a moratorium saying that there can be no more tobacco retailers,” Greene said. “We also put in restrictions on how many tobacco retailers we would have per population.”
Vape shops that are already open are allowed to remain under this moratorium; however, stores that close and attempt to reopen would not be allowed to do so. This legislation also allows the city to develop a tobacco retail license, which will allow officials to keep track of what specific stores sell tobacco products. This will be required for all retailers by April 1, 2024.
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Greene said this legislation was created to combat youth access to nicotine in the Oxford community.
The tobacco retail license also establishes “safe zones.” Greene said this would prevent tobacco retailers from opening near schools and parks where children and teenagers are often present.
Greene acknowledged there are underage sales occurring at these shops in Oxford. Oxford Police Department (OPD) has conducted several compliance checks at various vape shops to determine and cite these sales.
According to the Oxford City Council meeting on Aug. 1, OPD Chief John Jones said two stores had received citations during their June 2023 check: Miami Smoke Shop, which is now closed, and VIP Smoke Shop, which Jones said at the meeting had received four total citations. However, Sheikh denied these citations when asked.
“[Those citations] are not correct,” Sheikh said. “We have not sold to anyone under-age. You have to be 21. With no ID, we cannot serve you.”
First-year engineering management major Mitchell McCarthy suspects the abundant vape shops take advantage of the student population.
“I think that they definitely are targeting the fact that it's a whole bunch — it's a college town, and they're selling obviously to people here who are students and I think that it's obvious because they don't really check too hard on carding people,” McCarthy said. “So they don’t really care, they just kind of want the business.”
Wild Berry has not received any citations from these checks.
“The [OPD] told us that we have no problems,” Biales said. “Our compliance checks have been 100%, but we’ve always been a leader in that.”
While the passage of Issue 2 may not affect standing vape shops, its impact in the community has already been considered by Greene and store owners.
“We’ve been watching it closely,” Greene said. “If it passes, staff will likely recommend a moratorium for [city] council to pass which will ban … marijuana establishments from opening until we can get an understanding of the legislation and what it means for our community, and then create legislation to control it within our community.”
Bialas hopes that if passed, it will make the topic of recreational marijuana less-stigmatized in the community.
“Let’s hope it passes,” Bialas said. “It would turn a lot of criminals into decent citizens.”
Election day is on Tuesday, Nov. 7, and early voting began Oct. 11. For more information on how to vote, visit VoteOhio.gov.
Additional reporting by Photography Editor Jake Ruffer