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Will Ohio Be the Next State to Embrace Recreational Marijuana Use?

by Megan Henry, Ohio Capital Journal
May 2, 2023

Ohioans could vote to legalize recreational marijuana later this year.

But there are still hoops to jump through to get such a proposal on the November ballot.

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol has a proposal that would legalize and regulate the cultivation, manufacturing, testing and sale of marijuana to Ohioans 21 and up. It would also legalize home grow for Ohioans 21 and up with a limit of six plants per person and 12 plants per residence. The proposal would also impose a 10% tax at the point of sale for each transaction.

Ohio lawmakers have until Wednesday to pass the law, but that’s not likely to happen. If no action is taken on the proposed law, supporters can start collecting signatures to get the proposal on the ballot. The coalition would need to get about 124,000 signatures from registered voters from 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties before the July 5 deadline. The coalition submitted the proposal through an initiated statute, the legal process citizens can use to propose changes in state law.

Tom Haren, a spokesman for the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, is confident the proposal will not only get on the ballot, but that Ohio voters will legalize marijuana.

“It’s going to be on the ballot and it’s going to pass,” he said. “Ohio consumers will not have to rely on their drug dealers or go to Michigan. They will be able to have safe, effective and regulated adult use of cannabis right here in the Buckeye State. … The primary way that it will help Ohio is it’ll provide an alternative to the illicit and unregulated market.”

Working in tandem

Legalizing adult use marijuana can work alongside Ohio’s medical marijuana program. Under the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol’s proposal, medical patients and people 21 and older would be able to buy products at a medical marijuana dispensary.

The annual cost of a medical marijuana registration in Ohio is $50 for patients and $25 for caregivers. There are 355,368 patients that have registered for medical marijuana and 168,741 have both an active registration and an active recommendation as of March, according to the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program.

“It’s medical, it’s healing, it’s therapeutic for people,” said Pricilla Harris, executive director of the Sensible Movement Coalition. “This is really a medicine and people deserve the right to heal themselves however they see fit. … Let them be able to walk in and purchase safe, lab-tested, high-quality grade cannabis.”

Medical cannabis became legal in Ohio in 2016, but the first dispensary didn’t open until 2019.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — APRIL 20: Gaynelle Stanley of Columbus who worked as a respiratory therapist and is a proponent of cannabis for health use joins supporters of legalized marijuana, April 20, 2023, outside the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal. Republish photo only with original story.)
COLUMBUS, Ohio — APRIL 20: Gaynelle Stanley of Columbus who worked as a respiratory therapist and is a proponent of cannabis for health use joins supporters of legalized marijuana, April 20, 2023, outside the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal)

Gaynelle Stanley, a proponent of cannabis for health use, recently attended the “People’s Cannabis Lobby Day Rally” at the Ohio Statehouse on April 20. She worked for 15 years as a respiratory therapist at OhioHealth Riverside Hospital and her 50-year-old son uses medical marijuana for his chronic pain.

“Opioids just weren’t an option for him,” Stanley said. “It makes all the difference in the world. It’s about having a quality life.”

States legalizing marijuana

Michigan is one of the 22 states along with Washington, D.C., that has legalized the recreational use and sale of cannabis.

Harris said she knows people who have moved to Michigan because of their marijuana laws and she fears people will continue to leave Ohio if marijuana isn’t legalized.

“We want to keep our people in our state,” Harris said. “I definitely don’t want them rooting for Michigan’s football team.”

Marijuana dispensary parking lots in Southeastern Michigan are filled with Ohio license plates, Haren said.

“We want to make sure that there’s real access to cannabis so that people aren’t driving into Michigan, and bringing in products back over the border,” he said.

Last year, Michigan brought in about $325 million in tax revenue from medical and recreational sales, according to the state’s Cannabis Regulatory Agency.

Ohio State University researchers estimate the potential annual tax revenue generated from adult-use cannabis in Ohio ranges from $276 million to $374 million in year five of an operational adult-use cannabis market.

Senate Bill 9

State Sens. Stephen Huffman, R-Tipp City, and Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, introduced Senate Bill 9 in January — which would expand Ohio’s medical marijuana program.

SB 9 would create a 13-member Medical Marijuana Oversight Commission that would oversee the Division of Marijuana Control within the Department of Commerce to oversee Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Program.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — APRIL 20: Pricilla Harris, executive director of Sensible Movement Coalition and lobbying dir. NORML Appalachia (center) holds a flag in front of supporters of legalized marijuana, April 20, 2023, outside the Statehouse in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Graham Stokes for Ohio Capital Journal)

Today, the Ohio Department of Commerce, the State Medical Board of Ohio, and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy oversee regulation and licensing in the marijuana program.

“Moving the program under the supervision of the Department of Commerce should simplify the compliance process for businesses within the industry,” Huffman said in his sponsor testimony. “It is my hope that this legislation will bring free market principles to a highly regulated business.”

Under SB 9, the Board of Pharmacy would still be in charge of tracking medical marijuana in the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System and the state medical board would still issue certifications to recommend physicians and add qualifying medical conditions.

The bill would also expand permissible forms of medical marijuana to include pills, capsules and suppositories, oral pouches, oral strips, oral or topical sprays, salves, lotions, or similar items, and inhalers. Only oils, tinctures, plant material, edibles, lotions, creams, and patches are currently authorized in Ohio.

SB 9 would add arthritis, migraines, autism spectrum disorder, spasticity or chronic muscle spasms, hospice care or terminal illness, and opioid use disorder to the list of medical conditions that are eligible for treatment using medical marijuana.

The State Medical Board added arthritis, chronic migraines and complex region pain syndrome in February 2021. These are currently the qualifying medical conditions that are eligible for treatment using medical marijuana under Ohio law:

  • AIDS
  • Alzheimer’s disease
  • amyotrophic lateral sclerosis
  • cachexia
  • cancer
  • chronic traumatic encephalopathy
  • Crohn’s disease
  • epilepsy or another seizure disorder
  • fibromyalgia
  • glaucoma
  • hepatitis C
  • Huntington’s disease
  • inflammatory bowel disease
  • multiple sclerosis
  • pain that is either chronic and severe or intractable
  • Parkinson’s disease
  • positive status for HIV
  • post-traumatic stress disorder
  • sickle cell anemia
  • Spasticity
  • spinal cord disease or injury
  • terminal illness
  • Tourette syndrome
  • traumatic brain injury
  • ulcerative colitis

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