Ohio Medical Marijuana Law vs. Proposed Amendment on Ballot

On June 8, 2016 Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed HB523, legalizing medical marijuana in the state. Two groups who sought to place an amendment in the Ohio Constitution to allow medical marijuana by putting the issue before the voters have ended their efforts.

Ohio’s first foray into legalizing marijuana in the state, Ohio Issue 3, was soundly defeated by voters November 3, 2015 by a nearly two-thirds majority. After that, two separate groups and the state legislature went to work to legalize marijuana: Ohioans for Medical Marijuana and GrassRoots Ohioans.

The State of Ohio’s Legislative Efforts to Legalize Medical Marijuana

The 131st Ohio General Assembly, Republican-controlled in both the House of Representatives and Senate, announced in January 2016 that it would be making an effort to legalize medical marijuana there. At the time, there was doubt that the two bodies of the legislature would reach consensus to both create and pass a bill before the November 2016 general election, the goal date of the two outside groups’ ballot petition to put medical marijuana to a vote by the general citizenry, amending the state’s constitution.

However, after the House of Representatives formed a task force to listen to testimony from various Ohioans on the issue of legalizing marijuana for medical use and examined evidence and Sen Dave Burke (R – 26th District) and Sen. Kenny Yuko (D – 25th District) toured the state listening to what Ohio citizens had to say about the issue, the legislators not only created a bill, HB523, introduced on April 14, 2016, but both bodies reached agreement, first the House on May 10, 2016, then the Senate on May 25, 2016.

Gov. Kasich signed Ohio HB523 into law on June 8, 2016, with the new regulations taking effect in September 2016.

Ohioans for Medical Marijuana and GrassRoots Ohioans Groups Suspend Ballot Initiative Campaigns

On May 28, 2016, three days after the Ohio General Assembly passed HB523, Ohioans for Medical Marijuana and GrassRoots Ohioans issued statements that they were suspending their attempts to get a ballot initiative for the legalizing of medical marijuana ready for November 2016.

In the Ohioans for Medical Marijuana press release announcing the suspension of the group’s and its various volunteers and supporters’ efforts, including Marijuana Policy Project, the campaign’s manager, Brandon Lynaugh, expressed both his regret that the group’s effort was being suspended while calling HB523 a step forward for Ohioans.

Even while citing what his group found as the shortcomings of Ohio’s new law, Lynaugh stated, “But, all in all, it is a moderately good piece of legislation passed by lawmakers who were pushed hard by the patient community.” The group plans to advocate that the state follows through on all the provisions within the new law and to push for changes in it going forward to modify the law to include some of the details that Ohioans for Medical Marijuana had included in their initiative, such as increasing the number of medical conditions for which medical marijuana would be available.

GrassRoots Ohioans, whose petition had been rejected by Attorney General Mike DeWine for irregularities at least twice, also announced on May 28, 2016 that the group was no longer targeting November 2016 as the goal date for it’s own ballot initiative to place an amendment to the Ohio constitution for medical marijuana and industrial hemp. Instead, the group’s press release indicates they will aim for November 2017 to get their propose amendment changes on the ballot.

What Happens Now that Ohio Has Legalized Medical Marijuana?

Ohio residents who qualify for the right to use medical marijuana by having one of the 21 health conditions specified in the law will have to wait until September 8, 2016 to use one of the legalized forms of the substance. To do so, though, they will have to purchase the products from a state that has already legalized medical marijuana because Ohio’s program won’t be ready to go until two years from now.

An official recommendation from a doctor is required to permit an individual to use medical marijuana legally and to be able to legitimately take advantage of the affirmative defense built into Ohio law should law enforcement question possession or use of the approved products.

Leaders of the Ohio House and Senate and a group of Gov. Kasich appointees will form the committee that establishes the rules for growing and distributing the medical marijuana products. The Ohio State Board of Pharmacy and the Ohio Medical Board have their own roles to play in establishing rules for their respective areas.

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