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Legal recreational marijuana for adults seems inevitable, no matter what Ohio lawmakers think

Posted at 9:12 AM, Apr 20, 2021

CLEVELAND — April 20, or 4/20, brings knowing smirks across the faces of cannabis enthusiasts, who often use the time of day and date to reference consuming marijuana.

Over the past few years, the number of states where the cannabis celebration is illegal has been shrinking as states legalize the recreational use of marijuana by adults.

This map shows how different states have handled marijuana or medical marijuana legalization so far.

In Cleveland’s Public Square, there is plenty of room for opposite sides of the recreational marijuana debate.

“People are going to do it anyway, why don’t you do it where we can make money off of it and help society,” said Terri Dameron.

Terri would rather see money and resources used to enforce marijuana laws go towards keeping more dangerous drugs off the streets and away from people.

“I don’t really agree with it,” said Lynn Schnieder.

She’s worried about preventing people who are high from hurting someone else.

“Any other kind of drug [drivers] are pulled over with, you serve consequences for,” said Schnieder. “So I think just for any recreational [use], it’s just opening up a can of worms.”

Lynn is against any kind of non-medical use for marijuana. She supports medical cannabis because it can help keep people away from prescription opioids.

That is an issue the cannabis industry is still trying to solve. Scientists still haven’t figured out a good way to find out how impaired someone is when they are high because marijuana and alcohol react with the body in different ways. An Akron-start up developed what they call a breathalyzer for marijuana but law enforcement still doesn’t have a widely accepted tool to do that kind of evaluation.

Still, Congressional leaders say they want to legalize marijuana across the nation in some way sooner or later.

“It’s much less a question of ‘will it happen,” said Frantz Ward Partner Tom Haren, who represents clients in the marijuana industry. “Now it’s a question of when and how it will happen.”

The Legislation

Multiple different pieces of legislation could end up legalizing marijuana at the federal level.

Bills like the MORE Act would remove marijuana from the list of Controlled Substances, expunge the records of people in jail for marijuana offenses and create grants to reinvent in communities impacted by the war on drugs.

People line up outside a lounge in Windsor, Ontario in 2018 when Canada legalized recreational use of marijuana for adults.

The STATES Act would codify the “hands-off” approach the federal government has taken to its marijuana laws so far. States have been allowed to make laws legalizing marijuana in various forms without federal authorities stepping in.

As states change their marijuana laws, allowing adults to use it and creating medical programs, they directly contradict federal law, which still outlaws marijuana in all its forms.

“The federal government is really taking a hands-off approach from an enforcement standpoint but the fact that it is still illegal under federal law has a lot of collateral consequences,” said Haren.

Haren says legalized marijuana is inevitable in the United States. The only uncertainty is around how quickly it will take and what the specific laws will be.

Even with the federal government not enforcing federal marijuana laws, the contradiction makes banking, insurance, and interstate commerce really hard or impossible for marijuana, medical marijuana, or even hemp businesses. Hemp is fully legal after the 2018 Farm Bill, but comes from the same type of plant, cannabis, that also produces marijuana. The only difference is the amount of THC, or the compound that gets users “high” when they use marijuana.

Haren says the results of the 2020 election helps marijuana reform legislation because Democrats took control of the White House and the U.S. Senate, but that both political parties are feeling the heat.

“Marijuana is sort of this non-partisan issue anymore and you start to see really strange bedfellows when it comes to marijuana reform discussions,” said Haren.

Ohio’s complication

If the federal government removes cannabis from the list of Controlled Substances, Haren says Ohio lawmakers may not have a choice but to choose a side because of how Ohio’s laws are written.

“We don’t have a prohibition in Ohio on possessing marijuana,” said Haren. “We have a prohibition on possessing a controlled substance.”

Canadians smoke marijuana in Windsor in 2018 after their country legalized recreational marijuana.

If marijuana gets de-scheduled under federal law and is no longer considered a controlled substance, Ohio’s law is written to automatically make that same change.

“Our statutes that prohibit the possession or sale of controlled substances would no longer apply to marijuana because marijuana would no longer be a controlled substance,” said Haren. “Then we end up with this wild situation where we would have a very regulated and tightly controlled medical marijuana program but a totally unregulated, effectively-recreational marijuana program.”

Because marijuana legalization is so popular in American polls, it is one of the few issues where politicians from both major political parties sometimes agree.

Ohio lawmakers would likely take some kind of action before any legal consequences against marijuana possession or sales are nullified.

They have two options: creating an adult-use marijuana program in Ohio or changing Ohio law to specifically prohibit marijuana, which Haren points out is an unpopular opinion with the general public.

Another Option: Ballot Initiatives

While the details of federal and state marijuana reform legislation is hashed out while lawmakers are also dealing with COVID recovery work, there’s a looming threat that citizens will force the issue if lawmakers don’t act.

Pew Research Center data suggests that two-thirds of Americans support legalizing marijuana.

“If the federal government de-schedules marijuana and the [Ohio] General Assembly decides to continue with prohibition, against public opinion, against what the federal government has done, they will compel ballot initiatives in 2022 to legalize adult use here in Ohio,” said Haren.

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