Governor John Kasich has finally signed the Ohio medical marijuana law to become effective in the state as plans develop this year. This is a major signal for the rest of the nation as this traditionally conservative state gives a green light to legal cannabis. The dominos are beginning to fall.
Ohio is now beginning the process of licensing growers; nevertheless, those who are in need of the medicinal herb cannot get it yet. Like so many other states, the environment has changed. Ohio has a rigidly controlled system that it started to roll out last November.
The goal is to approve a minuscule 24 grow licenses in the first phase of the program with others vying for the processor and dispensary permits in early 2017. For a state the size of Ohio with nearly 12 million residents and a gross domestic product that makes Ohio a world player.
If it stood alone, Ohio would be the 21st richest nation on the globe at $552.46 billion GDP; richer than the nations of Argentina, Taiwan, Sweden, Poland, Belgium, and Norway.
House Bill 253
In September 2016, House Bill 253 effectively becomes law and legalizes weed for medical cardholders. The Medical Marijuana Control Program in the state will permit residents to use medical cannabis when certain medical conditions apply. Once an individual has procured a referral from a state-approved physician, they will be allowed to purchase and consume marijuana.
The bill outlines the overarching design of the effort. The job of fashioning the particular rules for the growing, cultivation, selling, and testing will fall to the various agencies. The goal is to keep Ohioans abreast of the progress of the program.
However, there has already been backlash against the measure. Several cities, towns, and villages have passed a moratorium on marijuana retailers. However, once they fully understood the tax benefits and employment opportunities, many of them saw the light.
At this point, nothing has really changed. Those who need cannabis for medicinal purposes still can’t buy it in Ohio, and doctors have not been able to become certified to prescribe it. So licenses have not yet been granted for dispensaries, growers and cultivators, processors or labs needed for testing. Information is still trickling in from state sources.
The law takes effect in September 2017. It establishes an overall structure of the medical marijuana program. There is a list of those with approved health conditions can purchase and use pot with the provision that their doctor has made a recommendation. Still, smoking and growing your own marijuana is strictly forbidden in Ohio.
Further information about who can sell and grow weed was turned over to the various state agencies to haggle over before September. The state has set a goal for dispensaries to open by early September 2018. At this point, the state appears to be on target to meet its deadline.
The process for cultivators was hammered out last April. At this point, Ohio has planned to grant up to 24 licenses for cultivators throughout the state. Half of the grow houses will be limited to space not exceeding 3,000 square feet; the others will be allowed up to 25,000 square feet of growing space.
They have also approved 40 processors who will produce marijuana tinctures, edibles and oils statewide. Finally, they have approved up to 60 dispensaries and an undisclosed number of labs for testing.
Licenses will be awarded to cultivators based on their overall strategic plans for growing pot, the level and quality of its staff, whether the facility is secure and whether the entire operation meets state regulations. The application is complex with costly fees. For instance, the bigger cultivators will be hit with a $20,000 non-refundable application fee. The license fee is $180,000 with an annual renewal of $200,000.
Even at these levels, there are more than enough takers. Officials would not disclose exactly how many applications have been received but in neighboring Pennsylvania, they have received over 500 applications. This is for about 12 available processor licenses and 27 permits for a dispensary.
While many jurisdictions are chomping at the bit to secure marijuana operations, others have decided to hold off. A few dozens have even passed an interim ban citing safety considerations. Many others have adopted a wait and see attitude holding back in an effort to ensure that they can fully meet state regulations. If a ban has been passed by a local jurisdiction, retailers are not allowed to request a permit to operate there.
The application includes a mandate that a local zoning official approve a document specifying that the grower has met with all paperwork requirements. And if a jurisdiction had not removed their ban by the end of June 2018, that city or town will not be able to open a facility depending on decisions made by state officials in September. But about 12 of those communities have lifted any previous bans or simply allowed to expire. Again, tax dollars, jobs and investments will always grab the attention of local politicians.
Some communities like Columbus and Youngstown have already approved grow licenses. And in Johnstown, the first to allow cultivators reportedly ran out of the land as the demand was so tremendous. As a result, the town council considered levying a massive licensing fee; they almost lost the interest of the businesses as a result. The businesses began to draw back saying that they would locate elsewhere and fill some of Ohio’s numerous vacant plants and former manufacturing facilities without being gouged by hefty fees.
As somewhat of a stop-gap measure, officials recognizing that the process would be around two years, allowing patients to use medical marijuana while systems are ramping up without fear of prosecution for possession. Those individuals with so-called qualifying conditions who follow the law will have a legitimate defense in court if they found with marijuana. Letters and/or other paperwork that certifies compliance and signed by the patient’s doctor would be acceptable.
Medical Marijuana Physicians
Most physicians in the state suggest that they are hesitant to put their signature on paperwork prior to gaining certification from the state. However, the certification process is not quite in place yet.
Just around seven percent of all Ohio doctors indicate that they are interested in becoming certified. There has only been one affirmative defense used in Ohio concerning cannabis. It was in the town of Bedford and the charges were eventually dropped.
Patients report being skeptical of the affirmation letters and feel that even with their conditions, they would be treated like criminals. They cite the vagueness of the regulations that concern them most. Therefore, they have asked the lawmakers for more clarification and institute a policy like that in next door Pennsylvania for something called “Safe Harbor” which would serve as somewhat of a shield for medical cannabis users.
The recently passed state budget removes the requirement that physicians certify the efficacy of medical marijuana. The state’s Board of Pharmacy has created, and will oversee, what are being termed “dispensary districts.” It is one of three agencies tasked with developing, implementing and supervising the statewide program. They will have the power to make determinations regarding where dispensaries will be located.
The so-called ‘dispensary districts’ were designed after the state took a look at the rules and regulations that have proved effective in other states. They are also assigned the responsibility consulting with officials from other states to research best practices, compliance protocols, patient populations, and additional resources that may be available.
The state plan includes a map of the state that has been broken up into four sections or quadrants that define the regions under the board’s supervision. It will define the dispensary districts that exist in each region. The deadline for remarks ended a few weeks ago, on August 11.
Ohio seems to be a hard nut to crack. Given the success of other states illustrating the ability to draw significant new revenue for the local jurisdictions, local officials are now dropping the antiquated notion; that weed should be banned.