The Ohio Senate approved a bill on Wednesday that would dramatically expand the state’s medical marijuana program by allowing doctors to recommend cannabis for patients who can “reasonably be expected” to benefit from it, in addition to making other changes.
Sen. Steve Huffman (R) is sponsoring the legislation, which cleared the chamber in a 26-5 vote. The bill—which is one of several cannabis reform proposals that have been introduced in the legislature this session—will now go to the House for consideration.
The Senate passes Senate Bill 261, sponsored by Senator @SteveHuffmanOH. pic.twitter.com/urFLyTQpDL
— Ohio Senate GOP (@OhioSenateGOP) December 15, 2021
The measure bill also seeks to streamline the regulatory structure of Ohio’s medical marijuana system. It would do that in part by creating a Division of Marijuana Control within the Department of Commerce to oversee the program, which is currently regulated by the Board of Pharmacy.
Watch the Senate vote on the medical cannabis bill, around 2:23:45 into the video below:
“This bill is not about if we have a medical marijuana program in Ohio, but it’s about making it business friendly and improving on what we did five years ago,” Huffman said on the floor on Wednesday. “This bill was a result of an immense work, hard work, by medical providers, patients and industry advocates.”
“The time has come to make some improvements to the program in an effort to streamline rules and regulations,” he said. “It is my hope that the legislation will bring free-market principles to highly regulated businesses.”
Under the measure, the division would be tasked with licensing at least one retail dispensary for every 1,000 patients “up to the first 300,000 registered patients and then adding additional retail dispensaries on an as-needed basis,” according to an analysis.
Senator @SteveHuffmanOH urges colleagues to support his legislation, improving Ohio’s Medical Marijuana program. pic.twitter.com/j90OjX0fai
— Ohio Senate GOP (@OhioSenateGOP) December 15, 2021
Dispensaries would also be allowed to advertise, including on social media, without receiving approval from the division.
A new “standalone processor” licensing category would be established. And there would be “two levels of cultivator licenses, with level I cultivating up to 50,000 square feet and level II cultivating up to 6,000 square feet.”
The bill would also make it so dispensaries could sell a wide array of cannabis products, including pills, oral sprays, lotions and “similar items.” Further, the THC limit for concentrates would be increased from 70 to 90 percent.
Doctors could also issue medical marijuana recommendations via telemedicine.
Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko (D), a cosponsor of the bill, said on Wednesday that he continues to “hear from people all over the place where people thanked us for what we did here in the Ohio General Assembly in bringing medical products—but you know, we’ve got so much so much farther to go.”
“We don’t treat it like medicine. We still treat it like it’s a joke, and it’s not a joke,” he said. “It’s got the potential to stop children from having another seizure, the next seizure we know could cause permanent brain damage or death. It will stop Afghanistan veterans coming back from war, having PTSD. It can help our parents and our grandparents and maybe people my age from having stomach cancers and such that could put us in such excruciating pain they don’t want to live anymore.”
Meanwhile, a pair of Ohio Republican lawmakers filed a bill this month to legalize marijuana for adult use in the state.
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Reps. Jamie Callender (R) and Ron Ferguson (R) first announced their plan to push the legislative reform proposal in October and circulated a co-sponsorship memo to build support for the measure.
The bill would allow adults 21 and older to purchase and possess up to 50 grams of cannabis. They could also grow up to six plants, only three of which could be mature, for personal use.
Further, the legislation includes a section that would have the state formally endorse a congressional bill to deschedule marijuana that’s sponsored by Rep. Dave Joyce (R-OH).
A separate state legalization bill that was the first of its kind to be introduced in the Ohio legislature earlier this year would similarly legalize the possession, sale and cultivation of cannabis by adults. It’s being championed by Reps. Casey Weinstein (D) and Terrence Upchurch (D), and it does include expungement provisions.
A recent legislative survey found that Republican lawmakers in the state are more supportive of legalizing marijuana than their Democratic colleagues are.
But leadership in the legislature, as well as Gov. Mike DeWine (R), will likely present obstacles for any recreational legalization bill that advances.
House Speaker Robert Cupp (R) laughed when he was asked about Callender’s legislation after its initial announcement, though he added, “Let’s just see where it goes. I haven’t read it yet.”
Callender said that although Republican legislative leaders and the governor are not yet on board, “there is more bipartisan support than most people would think.”
These moves come as activists are nearing completion of the first phase of their signature drive for a cannabis legalization initiative.
The measure would force legislators to consider a proposal to legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older, and they could also have up to 15 grams of marijuana concentrates. Individuals could grow up to six plants for personal use, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
Activists must collect 132,887 valid signatures from registered voters for the statutory initiative during this first phase of the effort. If they succeed, the legislature will then have four months to adopt the measure, reject it or adopt an amended version. If lawmakers do not pass the proposal, organizers will then need to collect an additional 132,887 signatures to place the proposal before voters on the ballot in November 2022.
Further demonstrating the appetite for reform in Ohio, voters in seven cities approved ballot measures to decriminalize marijuana possession during last month’s election.
Ohio marijuana activists have also successfully proved that they turned in enough valid signatures to put a local decriminalization initiative before Kent voters after having missed the 2021 ballot due to a verification error on the part of county officials.
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Photo courtesy of Brian Shamblen.