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Ohio Aims To Fast-Track Weed – But Will It Stick?

Last month, Ohio voters approved Issue 2, effectively legalizing recreational cannabis as of December 7th. Initially believed to be a long process as the state establishes a recreational cannabis industry, a new bill, HB 354 passed 28-2 in the Senate aims to fast-track cannabis sales by allowing medical dispensaries to start selling recreational weed within 90 days. 

Coined a reversal, the bill, maintains and changes home cultivation rights and provides for automatic expungements of prior convictions, among other changes.

The problem is that not everyone agrees. Even with the idea of fast-tracking cannabis sales, the state is at a crossroads. For starters, people in Ohio can legally use marijuana for recreational purposes, but there are no legal avenues for purchasing it. This has created a precarious situation, prompting Governor Mike DeWine to advocate for swift action to establish a safe and regulated market that aligns with the current rules in place for the medical industry.

Governor DeWine emphasized the need to protect Ohioans who may not want to be exposed to marijuana while catering to the desires of those who wish to purchase it legally. He expressed concern that without a legal market in place, consumers might resort to unregulated sources, potentially leading to marijuana laced with dangerous substances like fentanyl— a leading cause of overdoses in Ohio.

The Ohio Senate bill addresses several key aspects of the legalization process

  • Home Cultivation Limits: The bill reduces the number of marijuana plants allowed per household from 12 to 6.
  • Immediate Sales at Medical Dispensaries: It permits the quick sale of recreational marijuana at medical dispensaries, offering a potential solution to the current absence of legal outlets.
  • Preservation of Limits: The bill maintains possession and THC limits for plant-based marijuana material, protecting voter-approved regulations.
  • Expunging Cannabis Convictions: The bill seeks to automatically expunge past marijuana possession convictions, providing a path to a clean slate for individuals previously convicted of marijuana-related offenses. The initial material would have required people seeking an expungement to petition the courts.
  • Prohibit Sharing: HB 354 also prohibits Ohioans from sharing marijuana and marijuana plants. This is explicitly allowed in the initiated statute.
  • Tax Revenue Distributions: The 10% point-of-sale tax to be collected at dispensaries from Ohio adults was approved to send money to a jobs and social equity program, local governments and substance abuse, HB 354 would redirect this revenue to county sheriffs, law enforcement and other programs.

While the Ohio Senate’s actions are seen as a step towards bridging the gap between legalization and regulation, some industry insiders and advocates have reservations. Ohio medical marijuana pioneer Jimmy Gould, a former dispensary owner and now operator of a dispensary in Columbus, expressed concerns about the Senate’s approach. He believes that the bill, while well-intentioned, might inadvertently increase the cost of marijuana and undermine Ohio’s existing medical marijuana program.

Gould argues that the Senate’s plan could result in inflated prices for what he deems “inferior weed,” potentially driving consumers to neighboring states like Michigan, where reasonably priced marijuana has been available for years. He stresses the importance of crafting an ecosystem that benefits all stakeholders, from consumers to businesses.

Further, whether the Senate bill will stick is also up in the air. While these changes to the bill took effect December 7th, the House might have its plans for reform on a fast-track basis. That said, legal weed could take effect this week, only for it to be reformed in a few days with the House.

As the Ohio House works on its version of Issue Two, House Bill 354 is being considered in the House Finance Committee. It remains to be seen when or if the whole House will take up the proposal. Ohioans await further developments as their state navigates the path toward a fully realized legalized marijuana market, grappling with the nuances and challenges of regulation, availability, and affordability.

The debate over how to strike the right balance between personal freedom and public safety continues, underscoring the complexities of marijuana legalization. As of this week, there’s a good chance that medical dispensaries will begin recreational sales within the next three months. However, rules and regulations may continue to change as the state finds different nuances and avenues to address when implementing a recreational market that benefits everyone.

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