As the U.S. considers legalizing nationally, Ohio has recently put forth a variety of efforts to expand cannabis access to more citizens who could potentially benefit from the plant. The Ohio Medical Marijuana Program enacted several important measures late last year to make it easier for patients to access both physicians in the program and their medicine at the dispensary. And now, lawmakers on both sides of the aisle are working to help even more Ohioans access cannabis legally.
Ohio Medical Marijuana Program Changes
Telemedicine: For patients who enjoy or need the convenience of seeing a doctor via telemedicine, this benefit is now secure. The Ohio Senate passed legislation in December to make telehealth services available permanently. HB 122 was signed into law by Governer Mike DeWine on December 22, 2021.
Tier System Update: As of January 3, 2022, Ohio eliminated the tier system for plant material potency. For many patients who typically use high-potency THC products, this is good news for the 90 day supply structure. Patients who use high THC products will now not be penalized for extra days when purchasing products higher in THC. Effective January 3rd, the official 90-day supply chart changed to nine ounces, no matter the percentage of THC. An updated table can be found here.
Cultivator Expansion: In September 2021, Ohio’s cannabis cultivators were permitted to expand their grow space. The results of the measure should drive prices down and bring in a wider variety and more plentiful supply of cannabis products to dispensaries.
More Dispensaries: In December 2021, we learned that over 1,400 applicants submitted dispensary applications and will now vie for one of 73 dispensary licenses to be issued in 2022. The Ohio Lottery was commissioned to draw the order of winners, which happened the first week of February 2022. Now the state will vet the winning applications for various aspects of qualification. The 73 new state dispensaries will be awarded with emphasis on serving areas of the state that currently aren’t being served.
Program To Consider New Qualifying Medical Conditions
Ohio currently lists 25 qualifying conditions for medical marijuana. Each year, the state medical board accepts petitions to add new qualifying conditions. Nine petitions for 10 potential new qualifying conditions were received in late 2021. The petitions included opioid use disorder, Gilbert’s syndrome, degenerative disc disease, bipolar disorder, insomnia, anxiety, depression and lupus. The board will also review autism spectrum disorder, which has been up for consideration twice before.
The board is scheduled to meet next month to begin reviewing the requests. A final decision isn’t expected until this summer.
House Bill 60 (HB 60) Advances
In a separate effort to add autism to the qualifying condition list, House Bill 60 was passed by the Ohio House Health Committee last week. Sponsored by Rep. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, and Rep. Juanita Brent, a Cleveland Democrat, HB 60 now advances to the House Rules and Reference Committee to decide when and whether to put the bill on the floor. Fourteen additional lawmakers from both parties signed on to co-sponsor this bill. Seventeen states include autism spectrum disorder as a qualifying condition.
Senate Bill 261 (SB 261): A Proposal to Improve the Ohio Medical Marijuana Program
A bill launched in November sponsored by Sen. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) proposes to improve the regulatory structure of the medical marijuana program. With this bill, any physician in the state would be permitted to recommend a medical cannabis card to any patient who could reasonably expect to benefit from it. If passed, this measure would widely expand access to patients with any number of conditions that don’t currently qualify.
Senate Bill 261 further attempts to streamline the reporting requirements that has led to some confusion amongst license holders. Currently, the Ohio Departments of Pharmacy and Commerce control different pieces of the program. The proposed bill would keep Pharmacy in charge of managing the database of prescriptions through the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System (OARRS), but most oversight would now fall under the purview of a new Division of Marijuana Control housed in the Commerce Department.
One of the most important drawbacks that advocates note regarding SB 261 is that it doesn’t contain any provisions for patients to grow their own plants at home.
Additional Legalization Efforts Brought Forth By Legislators
Rep. Juanita Brent (who sponsored HB 60) also introduced a bill to fully decriminalize marijuana use and possession last year, but it died last session without a hearing. Experts believed that the bill failed due to not having bipartisan support. Two additional bills are now up for consideration, one sponsored from each side of the aisle:
- An adult use (recreational) bill to allow anyone age 21 and older to buy, possess and grow cannabis was introduced in October 2021 by Republican Senators Jamie Callender of Concord and Ron Ferguson of Wintersville. This bill would allow current medical marijuana cultivators, processors and dispensary owners to continue to operate. This would essentially eliminate the medical marijuana program, paving the way for all adults to be able to access cannabis at dispensaries. It would allow patients to grow their own plants at home, up to 6, with 2 flowering. The bill has earned broad sponsorship by both Republicans and Democrats.
- Democrat Reps. Casey Weinstein of Hudson and Terrence Upchurch of Cleveland also drafted a bill to decriminalize marijuana, along with creating a marijuana excise tax, commerce and licensing in the industry and appropriations for research on medical marijuana. If passed, the excise tax included in the bill would be 10 percent, and it would be distributed to K-12 education and infrastructure maintenance.The bill would also allow people to grow up to 12 cannabis plants at home.
A Ballot Measure to Regulate Marijuana like Alcohol
As of the start of 2022, 18 states now allow cannabis for adult use and 36 allow it for specified medical use. Could Ohio be the next adult use state? A ballot measure in December spearheaded by the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol received enough signatures for a 2022 ballot initiative to legalize marijuana. The measure would legalize possession of up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis for adults 21 and older. If this ballot measure were to pass, individuals could grow up to six plants, with a maximum 12 plants per household.
The ballot measure would impose a 10 percent sales tax 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).
The legislature now has 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 2022.
Patients and citizens who want to see any of these above measures get passed are urged to contact their state representatives to voice their support.
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