Ohio Marijuana Law Reform

On September 8, 2016, Ohio passed HB 523, which legalized Medical Marijuana for qualifying patients. By passing legislation, the State of Ohio was able to secure a place in front of all the progress already achieved by citizen led initiatives.

Over the years, many initiatives have tried to make it on the ballot, but fell short of either money or signatures. Activist from all corners of Ohio have worked together with shared hope to bring Ohio a comprehensive, compassionate and fair reform of marijuana laws. In 2015, Responsible Ohio, a campaign consisting of investors, was successful at placement of Issue 3 on the November ballot. Ohio voted the full legalization initiative down with a margin of 2/1; full cannabis legalization was not the reason for disapproval, but rather the oligopoly nature of the bill.

In the months following the failed Issue 3 initiative, subsequent polling confirmed that Ohioans were unopposed to cannabis legalization, whether full legal or medical-only. A survey sponsored by the national organization Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), showed that 3 out of 4 Ohioans thought medical marijuana should be a constitutional right for those in need. MPP launched a campaign driven by Ohio activists and philanthropists; this patient-focused medical marijuana initiative was short-lived. At the end of May 2016, Marijuana Policy Project suspended their efforts to place medical marijuana on the November ballot. The decision came as a surprise to activist involved in the signature gathering process, as well as the residents of Ohio.

MPP’s decision to pull out of Ohio stemmed from Ohio State Representatives’ announcement to fast track a medical marijuana bill, formally called House Bill 523.

The movement from the State House shaped a special task force designed to consider how the administration should move forward. Senator Kenny Yuko (D) and David Burke (R) spearheaded the task force, embarking on a listening tour to evaluate patients’ needs, grasp an overall understanding, and assess the support of legalization. Through diligent and focused dialog, the General Assembly passed HB 523, officially ordered in Section 3796.29 of the Ohio Revised Code.

The bill allows Ohio to license medical marijuana cultivation, processing, testing and dispensary locations over the course of the next two years. Legislation states that a fully regulatory medical marijuana market will be in place no later than September of 2018. This ensures patients will be able to purchase, travel with, and use medical marijuana in the state of Ohio.

Since the legislature passed a bill without a plan or regulatory platform in place, an affirmative defense clause was included in the law. The legislative intent of the affirmative defense provision is to expedite access for patients who have a qualifying condition and a recommendation from the patient doctor. The idea of protecting patients from possession or paraphernalia convictions during the waiting period is the goal. The affirmative defense section of the law gives a summary of how a physician should proceed in providing patients with limited protection within the interim time. OhioPatientsNetwork.org has designed an Ohio Medical Marijuana Recommendation form that will help guide patients and doctors. The link is here:  http://www.ohiopatientsnetwork.org/images/OMB/Interim_Ohio_Medical_Marihuana_Recommendation.pdf

The State of Ohio has delegated all of the regulatory authority to either the Department of Commerce, The State Board of Pharmacy and The Ohio State Medical Board. The Department of Commerce will regulate the cultivators and processors; the regulatory process must be complete by May 6, 2017, this includes how many cultivation licenses will be available and how people apply for them.

The State Board of Pharmacy will write regulations for dispensaries and develop the process for registering patients; the regulator process must be complete by September 8, 2017.

The Statehouse Representatives are sensitive to the cultivation community, and want to alleviate any concerns of large amounts of Ohio grown medicine going to waste over unfinished regulations. These specifications show good policy, allowing time for cultivators and processors to yield enough product to support the market. The expectations are that shortly after cultivators are operating the rest of the industry will follow.

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