Cannabis bill passes Senate

LIMA —As of Thursday, Dec. 7, possession of cannabis is legal in the state of Ohio, 30 days after voters passed Issue 2 on the November ballot.

The Ohio Senate passed a bill to change the language of the original statute as it took effect and while some proposed changes to the law are drawing concerns from supporters, the reaction to the developments overall has been excitement.

“We were absolutely thrilled,” Sarah McCullough, general manager of the Lima location of medical marijuana dispensary Backroad Wellness, said. “It’s fantastic news for us. We’ve already had phone calls, walk-ins and people placing orders in anticipation. Everything has been so up in the air all week that we didn’t know how everything was going to come out, but I think this will be a great thing for the state and for Lima, as well.”

The Senate’s bill proposes a cut in THC levels for both plant and extract products, as well as a ban on growing cannabis at home, directing tax revenue toward funding for the state, law enforcement training, substance abuse treatment and prevention and safe driving training, all things that were different in the original statute.

But it also calls for medical marijuana dispensaries to be allowed to sell cannabis products for recreational use before the state begins issuing recreational dispensary licenses within the next nine months, something that McCullough said will mean a significant deal to medical marijuana dispensaries like Backroad Wellness.

“From everything that we have been told, our current medical marijuana dispensaries will also receive a recreational license,” she said. “We will be dual purpose and then if it goes into effect in 90 days then we’ll obviously just open the doors.”

The Ohio House of Representatives and Governor Mike DeWine still need to approve the bill, but for experts like Ohio State Professor Doug Berman, the proposal has already revealed a lot about where Ohio politicians stand on the issue after it was approved by voters.

“The failure of the General Assembly to address this for the two years that the initiative was in the works is, I think, a matter to their discredit,” he said. “They may have hoped or wanted to believe that it wouldn’t pass with flying colors, but now that we’ve seen the will of the people and we saw a real pushback to the original proposal in the Senate, I think the GA is coming to understand that there’s real widespread support for legalization.

“And I think everybody agrees that there’s a need to make sure it’s done in a responsible way and that the regulations and rules around that are thoughtful and well-conceived. That’s really hard to do in a rushed way, so I am ultimately inclined to be complimentary of the House for not creating the kind of artificial deadline that something has to get done before this became legally effective,” Berman said.

In a press conference Wednesday, Governor DeWine reiterated his stance that he recognized the will of the voters, but that the state has an obligation to implement the program properly.

“The bill that was just passed out in the Senate committee, while respecting the will of the voters, deals with the practical challenges of its program and protects as best we can our children, our families and those who don’t want to be exposed to marijuana at all,” he said. “It’s very important, I believe, that this bill now in front of the Senate pass and become law. And it’s important that this occur as soon as possible.”

Recreational marijuana is not yet available for purchase in Ohio dispensaries, but the Department of Commerce’s new Division of Cannabis Control must adopt rules to implement the statute within nine months of the effective date, according to the department website.

Anyone over the age of 21 is allowed to possess and use non-medical marijuana in the state of Ohio.

The bill would take effect 90 days after the governor signs it.

Reach Jacob Espinosa at 567-242-0399.