Ohio Regulators Unveil Marijuana Legalization Guide As They Prepare To Create Rules For Voter-Approved Market

November 9, 2023 · marijuanamoment.net

Ohio officials have already released an FAQ guide to answer basic questions about the state’s new marijuana legalization law that voters approved on Tuesday.

The state Department of Commerce (DOC) sent out a press release on Wednesday to announce the resource for residents interested in learning more about the rules and timeline for the legalization initiative’s rollout.

Under the measure, a Division of Cannabis Control (DCC) will be established under DOC to regulate the adult-use market and issue marijuana business licenses. But as the department explained, the policies may be subject to change if the legislature moves to amend the law, which some top GOP lawmakers have signaled they plan to do.

Certain fundamental provisions of the measure will take effect within 30 days, DOC said. For example, the legalization of possession of up to 2.5 ounces of marijuana and cultivation of up to six plants (or 12 if two or more adults live in the same household) will become effective on December 7.

But under a FAQ section on the rollout of legal recreational sales, the department explained that it will take longer for retailers to open shop.

“Non-medical cannabis will not be immediately available to purchase in dispensaries and the general public at this moment is not permitted in dispensaries unless the individual is a registered patient or caregiver in the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP),” it said. “There are currently no entities licensed to sell non-medical cannabis in the state of Ohio.”

The voter-approved initiated statute gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators will need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.

The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.

“The state legislature plays a separate but important role in this process. Any amendments to the statute could impact the timeline for the rulemaking and licensing process,” DOC said. “Individuals are not allowed to purchase marijuana in other states and bring it into Ohio. Federal law prohibits traveling across state lines with marijuana.”

“The MMCP continues to solicit feedback from internal and external stakeholders to understand the impact of current rules and how the rules can be amended to ensure product safety and licensee compliance,” it said. “Pursuant to the biennial budget approved in July, all medical marijuana responsibilities, including the regulation of dispensaries and oversight of the Patient & Caregiver Registry currently managed by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, will be consolidated within the Department of Commerce on January 1, 2024.”

The FAQ guide specifically answers questions about the effective date of the new law, the timeline for retail sales, regulatory rulemaking, licensing applications, the impact on the state’s medical cannabis program and tax policy.

Meanwhile, top Republican Ohio lawmakers and prohibitionist groups have already started plotting ways to water down a marijuana legalization law that voters approved, with some proposing changes to specific provisions like tax revenue allocations and others floating an outright repeal.

For what it’s worth, however, a number of Ohio lawmakers said in September that they doubted the legislature would seek to repeal a voter-passed legalization law.

Voters were only able to decide on the issue after lawmaker declined to take the opportunity to pass their own reform as part of the ballot qualification process. They were given months to enact legalization that they could have molded to address their outstanding concerns, but the legislature ultimately deferred to voters by default.

Meanwhile, ahead of the vote, both sides of the campaign stepped up messaging and get-out-the-vote efforts as the election drew near. Last month, the yes campaign sent cease and desist letters to TV stations airing what organizers called opposition advertisements “filled with lies.” And reform advocates put out a pro-Issue 2 election ad of its own.

For his part, Gov. Mike DeWine (R) has said he believes “it would be a real mistake for us to have recreational marijuana,” adding that he visited Colorado following its move to legalize in 2012 and saw what he described as an “unmitigated disaster.”

As early voting kicked off late last month, the GOP-controlled Senate passed a resolution urging residents to reject measure.

Unlike the top state Republican lawmakers, one of the state’s GOP representatives in Congress—Rep. Dave Joyce, co-chair of the Congressional Cannabis Caucus, said in September that he would be voting in favor of the initiative in November. He encouraged “all Ohio voters to participate and make their voices heard on this important issue.”

The congressman said in a statement to Marijuana Moment on Tuesday that, with the legalization vote, “Ohio voters across the political spectrum made clear that cannabis prohibition is no longer tenable nor the will of the broad electorate.”

“The federal government must not only respect the will of our state and its voters, but support it. I am as invigorated as ever to push and pass common sense reforms that do just that,” he said. “I will continue to center this work around reversing the harms to those who have been unjustly impacted by a near century long prohibition and increasing public safety—which remains inextricably linked to efficient and effective regulations.”

Senate Banking Committee Chairman Sherrod Brown (D-OH) said late last month he voted in favor of the legalization ballot initiative, calling it a “hard decision” but one that was based on his belief that the reform would promote “safety” for consumers.

Meanwhile, an analysis published in August by Ohio State University researchers found the change could bring in $404 million in annual tax revenue.

Ohio voters rejected a 2015 measure, on a 64–36 vote, that would have amended the state’s constitution to legalize marijuana and give control of the market to a small group of producers. Organizers for the current campaign said they drew on lessons learned from that failure in crafting the current initiative.

Bipartisan Ohio lawmakers filed a separate bill to legalize marijuana in May, offering the legislature another opportunity to take the lead on the reform.

Here are the key provisions of the Ohio legalization ballot measure that was approved: 

  • The initiative would 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.
  • A 10 percent sales tax would be imposed on cannabis sales, with revenue being divided up to support social equity and jobs programs (36 percent), localities that allow adult-use marijuana enterprises to operate in their area (36 percent), education and substance misuse programs (25 percent) and administrative costs of implementing the system (three percent).
  • A Division of Cannabis Control would be established under the state Department of Commerce. It would have authority to “license, regulate, investigate, and penalize adult use cannabis operators, adult use testing laboratories, and individuals required to be licensed.”
  • The measure gives current medical cannabis businesses a head start in the recreational market. Regulators would need to begin issuing adult-use licenses to qualified applicants who operate existing medical operations within nine months of enactment.
  • The division would also be required to issue 40 recreational cultivator licenses and 50 adult-use retailer licenses “with a preference to applications who are participants under the cannabis social equity and jobs program.” And it would authorize regulators to issue additional licenses for the recreational market two years after the first operator is approved.
  • Individual municipalities would be able to opt out of allowing new recreational cannabis companies from opening in their area, but they could not block existing medical marijuana firms even if they want to add co-located adult-use operations. Employers could also maintain policies prohibiting workers from consuming cannabis for adult use.
  • Further, regulators would be required to “enter into an agreement with the Department of Mental Health and Addiction Services” to provide “cannabis addiction services,” which would involve “education and treatment for individuals with addiction issues related to cannabis or other controlled substances including opioids.”
  • With respect to social equity, some advocates are concerned about the lack of specific language on automatic expungements to clear the records of people with convictions for offenses that would be made legal under the legislation. That said, the measure does include a provision requiring regulators to “study and fund” criminal justice reform initiatives including expungements. (Full Story)
In category:Legalization
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