Ohio Is Making Strides on Cannabis Legalization

The state is in the process of expanding medical marijuana access and polls show Ohioans are in favor of recreational weed

Ohio Is Making Strides on Cannabis Legalization
Photo: Jeff W., Unsplash

There’s a chance Ohio could become a safe haven for medical marijuana users and casual tokers in 2023. Legislation to expand the state’s medical program is making its way through the statehouse, even as a citizens’ push seeks to get recreational weed on the November ballot.

In order to understand what’s now allowed, what could change through these efforts and what the future may look like for local cannabis users, take a deep breath and consider Ohio’s ever-evolving marijuana landscape.

Current weed laws in Ohio

Ohio decriminalized marijuana in small amounts in 1975, but that doesn’t mean it’s legal to use recreationally. If someone is caught in possession of less than 100 grams (about 3.5 grams, which is known as a traditional “eighth”), they can be charged with a misdemeanor and fined $150.

Possession of anything more than an eighth of weed is considered criminal and could result in a felony charge depending on the amount or other factors in the arrest.

Even with decades of decriminalization, Black people in Ohio are 3.4 times more likely to get arrested for marijuana possession than white people, according to the American Civil Liberties Union.

In 2015, Ohioans voted against legalizing recreational marijuana, but voted in favor of medical marijuana sales the following year. It wasn’t until 2019 that patients could start buying medical marijuana from licensed dispensaries, of which there are currently 68 in the state.

Medical requirements to be prescribed marijuana

In order to legally buy and possess medical weed, Ohio residents must be diagnosed with one of the following conditions by a certified doctor:

Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
Alzheimer's disease
Cachexia, wasting syndrome
Chronic pain (severe/intractable)
Crohn's disease
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE)
Epilepsy (seizures)
Hepatitis C
Huntington's disease
Inflammatory bowel disease (IBD)
Multiple sclerosis
Parkinson's disease
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)
Sickle cell anemia
Spinal cord injury
Terminal illness
Tourette syndrome
Traumatic brain injury (TBI)
Ulcerative colitis

In 2021, the State Medical Board of Ohio confirmed that arthritis, chronic migraines and complex regional pain syndrome are all considered either chronic or intractable pain conditions that would qualify for a prescription under the existing list.

How do medical patients consume their cannabis?

While smoking marijuana is historically the most popular form of consumption, especially for recreational users, patients of the state’s medical program have more limited options for treating their condition.

The only approved forms of medical marijuana in Ohio are oils, tinctures, plant material, edibles, lotions, creams and patches. The law prohibits the use of medical marijuana by smoking via combustion (read: a joint) but does allow for vaping. The law also prohibits licensed retailers from selling any form of marijuana that is considered “attractive to children.”

A patient can petition the state for permission to use a different method of consuming medical cannabis, but smoking is expressly forbidden.

And just because you qualify for medical weed doesn’t mean you can buy it on the street. Medical marijuana patients must purchase their cannabis from a state-approved distributor, and each patient can only possess up to a 90-day supply at once. Patients are not allowed to grow their own marijuana.

How many Ohioans have been approved for medical marijuana?

As of Feb. 28, 2023, Ohio had 166,643 medical marijuana patients with both an active registration and an active recommendation, meaning they have the green light from both a doctor and the state to buy cannabis. Since the program kicked off in 2019, the state has seen 346,582 patients register, 21,028 of them with military veteran status.

The state does allow children to receive prescriptions for medical marijuana with the consent of a parent, but data on the number of children in Ohio’s program is not publicly available.

If a patient from another state that also has a medical marijuana program wants to buy cannabis legally in Ohio, the two states would first need to enter into a reciprocity agreement. In order for out-of-state patients to qualify for medical marijuana use, Ohio’s Board of Pharmacy must prove the other state’s medical marijuana program is “substantially comparable” to Ohio’s, and that the other state would recognize a patient registration card issued in Ohio. Ohio has yet to enter into any reciprocity agreements, although the Board of Pharmacy is required to “attempt in good faith” to do so.

Senate Bill 9

In January, state senators Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, and Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, introduced Senate Bill 9, which would allow doctors to recommend cannabis for any debilitating condition and would expand dispensaries and growers in the state.

The bill would shift regulation of the medical program away from the Board of Pharmacy to a commission within the Department of Commerce. The 13-person commission, appointed by the governor and legislative leaders, would include doctors, law enforcement and addiction specialists. SB9 would also loosen restrictions on out-of-state medical card holders and would allow dispensaries to advertise on social media and offer drive-thru service.

Ballot vote to legalize marijuana

While SB9 expands access to marijuana for some, advocates with the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol want to put legal weed on the ballot for all.

The coalition’s proposal would, as its name suggests, regulate marijuana much like alcohol. Ohioans age 21 and older would be able to buy and possess 2.5 ounces of cannabis and 15 grams of concentrates. They could also grow their own marijuana — up to six plants individually or no more than 12 in a household with multiple adults.

After efforts to get near-total legalization on the ballot fell through in 2022, state lawmakers agreed to reintroduce the coalition’s initiative in January 2023. Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose submitted the proposed statute to lawmakers on Jan. 3. They have until May 3 to approve it, which they likely won’t — and if they don’t, the question will go before voters.

Polling from 2022 suggests Ohioans might be in favor.

Emerson College conducted a poll of 410 likely voters in February 2022, asking, "Do you think marijuana should be legal for recreational purposes in Ohio?" Results showed 50.4% of respondents in favor of legalizing recreational weed, 39.7% opposed and 10.0% undecided.

Originally published by CityBeat, Scene's sister paper in Cincinnati.

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