Marijuana Legislation Takes New Direction


Bryan Rubin, Photo editor

In the face of the Issue 3 loss, legislators are currently in the process of gathering information to propose a bill for the legalization of medical marijuana.

Sydney Allen, Editor-in-Chief

Last week, Legalize Ohio 2016 announced that it was suspending its efforts to collect petition signatures for an amendment to legalize and regulate marijuana use for recreational and medical purposes. Instead, the group is reorganizing to join efforts by the Marijuana Policy Project — the largest organization focusing on marijuana reform in the U.S. — to get medical marijuana legislation on the ballot in this year’s general election.

The push for across-the-board legalization took a hit last November when the Ohio Marijuana Legalization Initiative, Issue 3, was defeated at the ballot box by a margin of nearly 30 percent. Issue 3 would have decriminalized and regulated marijuana use. However, the legislation would have only allowed 10 pre-selected sites to grow commercial cannabis, a caveat that many voters feared would lead to a small number of investors monopolizing the industry.

Despite this defeat, public opinion for cannabis reform remains high. A recent Quinnipiac University poll found that 84 percent of Ohio voters support legalizing medical marijuana use.

“It’s become pretty common knowledge that marijuana can be incredibly beneficial in the treatment of a variety of medical conditions,” said Mason Tvert, an Ohioans for Medical Marijuana spokesperson. “It’s not surprising that a vast majority of voters agree patients should be allowed to consume it if their doctors think it could be helpful. There are few laws still on the books that are as unpopular as those that prohibit sick and dying people from accessing medical marijuana.”

The Ohio House’s medical marijuana task force held their third meeting on Thursday at 7 p.m. a he Statehouse. It is comprised of 15 members and was created by Ohio House GOP leaders after Issue 3’s defeat in November. Ohio Representative Kirk Schuring is leading the task force.

The House committee consists of two republicans and one democrat. According to Dan Ramos, State Representative and member of Ohio’s medical marijuana task force, the task force isn’t typical because there are legislators as well as other interested parties. A typical committee would only consist of legislators.

“We have invited anyone who wants to talk about the issue to come forward and talk about it,” Ramos said. “We’ve talked to a lot of experts: folks from the medical field, patients and patients’ advocates and folks from the industry. I think it’s going very well so far.”

According to Ramos, the senate has also had committees travel around the state to places like Cleveland, Cincinnati and Toledo to hear what citizens had to say about the potential legalization.

“The chair of the committee was very clear that he didn’t want to do anything until everyone had had a chance to speak. We have had a lot of people say that this is something that has been used and can be used in other places and here, although illegally here, to treat actual medical conditions,” said Ramos.

Ramos said that citizens who need substances like marijuana to regulate their pain levels have spoken out about being criminalized for finding ways to cope with their ailments. The committee is currently only looking at the legalization of medical marijuana, and are not considering the decriminalization of recreational use.

“I traveled to Denver last week and met with legislators, the governor’s office and patient advocates. The more evidence we have from patients and medical professionals, it seems that this is something that is a good idea,” Ramos said. He has seen medical marijuana work constructively in other states.

The committee is continuing research in states like Colorado and Oregon to find out what kind of system they want to use: dispensaries, home-grown plants or both. Ramos recently visited Denver to talk to patients’ advocates.

“[The process] has surprisingly been successful so far. If we can do it right, it might be better to do it through the legislature than through a petition to prevent [delays from the government]. This way we can set up a system in one fell swoop,” Ramos said.

Ramos said that the committee was formed to avoid issues that other states have had. In states where people have petitioned for legalization, the legislatures of those states have had to rush to create systems that had to be reformed multiple times.

“Don’t take that as me thinking we need more time, I think we should continue as we are. So far, people are saying that this is a substance that can alleviate suffering,” Ramos said.

OMM and other medical marijuana advocacy groups in Ohio will be petitioning from April to June to get the more than 300,000 signatures required for medical marijuana legislation to be included on the ballot this November. If passed, Ohio would join 23 other states, as well as Washington, D.C., that have approved similar laws.

“We look ahead to election day this November, where Ohio voters will tell the state that it’s time to take care of our citizens by healing the sick and ending criminal penalties for cannabis,” Legalize Ohio 2016 said in a statement on its website.