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Radical Rant: Ohio Marches into the Medical Marijuana Box Canyon

Russ Belville

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That’s a paraphrase of numerous Facebook comments I posted last year to Ohioans who were vehemently opposed to the legalization initiative that failed by a two-to-one margin.

2015 was a tough year for me online. I was one of very few of my colleagues cheerleading for the passage of the ResponsibleOhio Issue 3. You’ll remember it was that fantastic marijuana legalization proposal with a really odious catch—there’d only be 10 lands for commercial growing, and they were all owned by the investors in Issue 3, a constitutionally guaranteed oligopoly.

I was in Columbus for election night. As the first returns came in, I knew it was doomed. The election night party tried to remain optimistic for a change in the results, but updates just kept re-affirming that Ohio 2015 would be the biggest legalization loss in 30 years.

There was a Women Grow meeting a couple of days after, at which I was invited to speak. During the question and answer time, somebody asked me what I thought was next for Ohio.

“I think there will be an initiative push for medical marijuana, not legalization, in 2016,” I recall answering. “Polls show it’s pretty much a slam-dunk here. If they’ve got a serious proposal that could win, I expect your legislature will pass some no home-grow, non-smokable, no plant medical marijuana law like Minnesota and New York.”

Well, I was wrong on one point. Ohio did manage to get access to whole plant medical marijuana, but smoking it is forbidden.

One positive that came from the 2015 campaign was polling that showed medical marijuana was extremely popular in the Buckeye State. The Marijuana Policy Project put resources into a citizens’ initiative for medical marijuana. It included the right of patients to cultivate up to six cannabis plants.

The legislature, recognizing that the MPP initiative would likely win in November, crafted its own medical marijuana law. Initially, it was a no home-grow, non-smokable, no plant law, as I predicted. But activists fought hard and got the inclusion of “plant material” as an acceptable form of medical marijuana—as long as it is not smoked.

I’m sure that once patients get it home, that law will be followed as diligently as the “for tobacco use only” sign in a head shop. The real reason for the smoking ban, of course, is that it forces patients who want to smoke to only do it at home. In public, possession of a pipe or burnt marijuana will be considered non-medical use, and those caught will be subject to criminal laws.

Another strange quirk of the new Ohio law is its limitation on THC potency for marijuana at 35 percent and extracts at 70 percent.

Now, the MPP has announced suspension of their campaign for the medical marijuana initiative. Almost everything from the MPP initiative is in the new law with respect to qualifying conditions, growers, processors, dispensaries and patient rights.

Fighting now just to add patients’ home grow rights and stronger extracts isn’t a wise use of resources in a campaign year when the MPP has four other legalization initiatives to back, which reminds me of something I wrote last September in response to 2015 Issue 3 opponents who said there’s be better legalization next year.

“But in 2016, California will be fighting to get on the ballot, and it will attract much of the money donated to support legalization nationwide,” I wrote. “Add in Nevada, Michigan, Massachusetts, Maine, Arizona and maybe even Missouri for 2016, and that leaves a lot of competition for pro-legalization dollars. Could 2020 be the next realistic shot for Ohio if it loses in 2015? Ask California, where their 2010 loss wasn’t followed up until (hopefully) 2016.”

I’m happy that medical marijuana will be available for patients in Ohio, and it’s great that they’ll actually get to use whole plant marijuana in a vaporizer (*wink*). But people growing cannabis will still be subject to arrest and prison. People possessing marijuana without medical recommendations will still get minor misdemeanors and fines, as will patients caught smoking marijuana.

Ohio could have been beginning its medical and recreational program right now. Anybody—patient or not—could have been buying $50 licenses to home grow six plants. But rather than allow 10 investment groups to control all commercial grow lands, Ohio gets no home grow, non-smoking medical marijuana, through a yet-to-be-determined number of growers, processors, extractors and retailers, that localities can ban, that won’t begin operations until 2018.

And legalization for healthy people to possess and home grow? 2020? Maybe? I’m betting 2024.

(Photo Courtesy of Lochfoot)

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