Activists in Ohio are determined to get a cannabis legalization bill onto the 2015 general ballot for the state. Given the state’s current decriminalization laws and shifting voter perceptions of cannabis, there is good reason for activists to be excited about the prospect of such a law being passed by voters this fall. Right now, however, the primary discussion about Ohio’s possible legalization efforts is about which of the proposed systems will make it to the ballot. There are three groups, two similarly named, that all have different laws they are proposing.
Responsible Ohio, likely the best funded of the groups, has received a lot of flak from grassroots activists, and it isn’t hard to tell why. If any one legalization group could be said to be promoting the creation of a “big cannabis” industry, it would likely be Responsible Ohio. Their bill, which is a proposed constitutional amendment, originally limited the cultivation of cannabis to only ten grow sites for the entire state. Those sites, by the way, have already been promised to the major financial backers of the bill and Responsible Ohio. In other words, Responsible Ohio took money from some people and businesses and was working to establish a legal monopoly on growing cannabis for them within the Ohio cannabis market. They announced on February 17th that the language of the proposed bill had been amended to allow for personal gardens of four plants. That number has been criticized for being too low to allow a patient with medical needs to provide their own medicine.
In addition to creating ten legal grow facilities, the Responsible Ohio bill would also create a research and development facility for cannabis in Ohio’s Cuyahoga County. The bill calls it a “marijuana innovation and business incubator,” meant to facilitate development and research at universities, hospitals and businesses. The final placement of the center would be determined by the Ohio Marijuana Control Commission, which would also be created if the bill passes. The bill’s language also specifically limits the number of cannabis dispensaries to fewer than 1,200 for the whole state and creates a 15% tax on retail sales of cannabis. The recently announced changes to the bill would also reduce tax on cannabis flower to five percent, while medibles would be taxed at the previously suggested 15 percent rate.
The Ohio Rights Group, which attempted and failed to collect enough signatures to get a legalization measure on the 2014 ballot, is also working on their own medical cannabis bill, called the Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment. The Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment outlines a basic medical cannabis statute for the state for adults and minors who have permission from their parents and a debilitating medical condition. The bill’s list of conditions includes both depression and post-traumatic stress along with the typical qualifying conditions of cancer, seizure disorders and various other serious medical condition.
The Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment would also create a regulatory commission, called the Ohio Commission of Cannabis Control and would legalize the cultivation of non-psychoactive hemp. It allows six months after the passage of the bill for the creation of necessary regulations and infrastructure by the Ohio Commission of Cannabis Control, which will have nine members.
There is yet another group, called Responsible Ohioans for Cannabis, that has been working on legalization measures for some time. The group registered the name of the organization in 2011, and they are proposing a different bill, called the End Ohio Cannabis Prohibition Act (EOCPA). Their bill legalizes personal amounts of recreational cannabis for adults over 18 and medical cannabis for minors with permission from their parents and proof of a medical condition that benefits from the use of cannabis. Personal cannabis gardens can contain up to 99 plants, and individuals can possess up to 99 kilograms (or 218.26 pounds) of cannabis.
The language of the End Ohio Cannabis Prohibition Act specifically prohibits the creation of any laws attempting to create a maximum legal dose or potency for cannabis and gives the state legislature 90 days to create basic regulatory framework for a legal cannabis industry. It also states that regulator’s failure to respond within 30 days to a commercial licensing request will result in the license being de facto granted provided zoning permits have been obtained.
Any organization hoping to get its proposed bill on the ballot will have to collect more than 300,000 signatures from Ohio citizens, which is not small feat, especially because the signatures much come from many different counties across the state. Each of these groups has a different approach and budget, and it is impossible to predict how voting citizens will ultimately respond to the proposed laws. One thing is certain; plenty of other states will be watching the Ohio initiatives closely as they move through the ballot initiative process. Ohioans may very well have the opportunity to vote on one or more cannabis-related bills this fall.
Photo Credit: Alexander Bondarenko