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2021 was good for Ohio Medical Marijuana, Advocates say 2022 will be better

Posted at 4:20 PM, Dec 28, 2021
and last updated 2021-12-28 18:56:12-05

AKRON, Ohio — Americans are learning that the one constant for their country’s marijuana laws is that they are constantly changing, at least at the state level.

Just in 2021, New York, Virginia, New Mexico, and Connecticut legalized pot while 27 other states, including Ohio, considered bills to allow adult use in their states.

The big question is: when will marijuana be legal in the Buckeye State?

Ohio’s Medical Marijuana 2021 changes 

That question is hard to answer precisely, but experts say it could happen by the end of 2022.

The bigger focus so far has been on the 133,866 Ohioans who have current medical marijuana registrations and are actively purchasing medical cannabis.

Customers waited in the cold before Ohio's first medical marijuana sales in January 2019 to make sure dispensaries didn't sell out.

Medical Marijuana patient Laura DeAngelis was frustrated with how far she had to drive and how much she had to pay for her medical marijuana when we talked to her in 2021.

“I buy [edibles] in bulk because the local dispensary is about 40 minutes away so it’s kind of hard for me to get out there all the time,” said DeAngelis.

DeAngelis uses medical marijuana to battle chronic pain.

That’s why she was relieved when Ohio’s Board of Pharmacy announced this year that it would allow 73 new dispensaries, more than doubling the state’s current number: 57. Applications for those new locations have already been submitted and the hope is that the winning bids will be announced in early 2022.

The state is also allowing medical marijuana cultivators like Galenas in Akron to expand their facilities and grow more products. It would help supply the expanding Medical Marijuana market, but also set up the state to meet the needs of a relatively-inevitable adult use market.

All of Galenas' plants are grown to be turned into raw flower and sent to Ohio medical marijuana dispensaries.

“Our hope is that it gets done in a way that is relatively thoughtful and allows us to compete in a very large adult-use market in Ohio,” said Galenas owner Geoff Korff.

Ohio’s Recreational Marijuana 2021 gains

The expanding medical program could take a backseat to a legal recreational marijuana program, which would likely allow anyone over the age of 21 to have marijuana and grow a limited number of plants privately.

Bud tenders work on raw flower at a cultivation and processing facility in Ohio.

There are three different ways that could happen:

Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol’s Initiated Statute

“I think if there’s one lesson this year that we’ve learned with adult-use marijuana, it’s that marijuana reform is popular,” said Coalition to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol’s lawyer and Frantz Ward LLP Partner Tom Haren.

His group just submitted more than 200,000 signatures from Ohioans all across the state telling the state legislature that they support allowing anyone who can buy a beer to buy or grow buds too.

The 57 dispensaries that are currently open in Ohio will eventually be joined by 73 more, bringing the state's total to 130.

“We think it sends a strong message to the legislature that the Ohio voting public is behind this proposal,” said Haren.

If the legislature doesn’t pass that law within four months of it being introduced, voters could do it for them at the ballot box in November 2022.

Democrat Legislation

Rep. Casey Weinstein (D-Hudson) and Rep. Terrence UpChurch, (D-Cleveland) have already introduced their own bill that would also allow adults to possess and grow marijuana in the state.

“We’ve kind of waited for a little bit to see what’s working in states, what isn’t working so that we can [use] the very best practices,” said Rep. Weinstein.

Republican Legislation

The third option comes from the other side of the aisle where Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord) and Rep. Ron Ferguson (R-Wintersville) are working on a bill that proposes Ohioans 21 and older can buy marijuana with a photo ID. He says it makes sense that Ohio is taking its time with legislation like this.

"A 17 or 18-year-old can't just walk in off the street and buy it," said Rep. Callender. "That's not going to happen."

“Some of those states [that are legalizing marijuana] are just liberal states that wanted an extra party drug,” said Rep. Callender. “Ohio is a bit more discriminate than that, we’re a little bit more conservative than that and it makes sense that our adult-use program would be a more conservative model.”

10-Percent Tax

All three proposals would create a 10-percent tax on recreational marijuana sales that would not apply to registered medical marijuana patients.

The tax revenue from the Initiated Statute would support social equity and addiction programs, while also sending some money to communities that house dispensaries.

The revenue from the Democratic proposal would use that money for marijuana research, education, and repairing roads.

Advocates estimate a tax on recreational marijuana could easily bring in hundreds of millions of dollars in tax revenue that doesn't exist because the drug is illegal right now.

The revenue from the Republican proposal would send half the revenue to the state’s General Fund while also funding drug trafficking and drug abuse efforts.

All three use a source of tax revenue that just doesn’t exist right now.

“There’s no doubt we’re leaving money on the table here in Ohio,” said Rep. Weinstein.

Federal Legislation

The United States House of Representatives has already passed the Marijuana Opportunity Reinvestment and Expungement Act once and it’s waiting on the Senate to take it up. Even in a politically-divided Congress, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle have supported big pieces of that legislation.

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