Medical Marijuana Becomes Legal in Ohio; Sets Foundation to Block Federal Prohibition in Practice

COLUMBUS, Ohio (Sept. 12, 2016) – Medical marijuana officially became legal in Ohio last week, marking the step forward toward thwart the deplorable federal prohibition on cannabis in practice.

Rep. Stephen Huffman (R) introduced House Bill 523 (HB523) on April 14. The legislation sets in motion the creation of a limited medical marijuana program in Ohio.

"There is hereby established a medical marijuana control program in the department of commerce and the state board of pharmacy. The department shall provide for the licensure of medical marijuana cultivators and processors and the licensure of laboratories that test medical marijuana. The board shall provide for the licensure of retail dispensaries and the registration of patients and their caregivers. The department and board shall administer the program."

The House passed the bill by a 71-25 margin on May 10. The Senate approved the measure 19-15 on May 25th. The House concurred with Senate amendments 67-29.

The new law establishes a limited “seed-to-sale” system for growing, testing and dispensing marijuana. Patients suffering from 20 medical conditions will now be able to access medicinal cannabis with some limitations. The law prohibits smoking marijuana and does not allow for home cultivation of cannabis. The law permits patients to use patches, edibles and vaping products.

Although the new law went into effect today, it will take up to two years for the program to get up and running. According to the Columbus Dispatch, “The system will be overseen by Ohio Department of Commerce, Ohio Board of Pharmacy, State Medical Board and an appointed advisory committee. Initial rules will be rolled out later this month, but marijuana is not expected to be available for 18 months to two years.”

With passage of the bill, Ohioans for Medical Marijuana dropped its effort to put the issue on the November ballot, citing lack of money and other issues.

“This is a joyous day for the thousands of Ohioans who will finally be able to safely access much-needed medicine,” Ohioans for Medical Marijuana spokesman Aaron Marshall said after Gov. John Kasich signed HB523. “We still have much work ahead of us to improve this imperfect law…”

According to activists on the ground in Ohio, the success of the program will be determined in large part by the rule-making and implementation process over the next several months.

“September 8 is the first step in a long process, and MPP and Ohioans for Medical Marijuana are watching that process closely. Many important policy decisions that will directly affect the success or failure of the system are yet to be made,” a Marijuana Policy Project spokesperson said on the organization’s website.

Despite the federal prohibition on marijuana, measures such as HB523 remain perfectly lawful, and the feds can do little if anything to stop them in practice.

EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION

While somewhat limited, Ohio’s new statute does partially remove one layer of law prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in the state, but federal prohibition remains in place.

Of course, the federal government lacks any legal authority to ban or regulate marijuana within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.

While this Ohio law does not alter federal law, it takes an important step toward stopping in effect the federal ban. FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. By easing the state laws, the Ohio legislature would remove some of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.

Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly-budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.

Ohio joins a growing number of states simply ignoring federal prohibition. Colorado, Washington state and Alaska have all legalized both recreational and medical marijuana, and 23 states now allow cannabis for medical use. With nearly half the country legalizing marijuana, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition any more. The feds need state cooperation to fight the “drug war,” and that has rapidly evaporated in the last few years with state legalization, practically thwarting the ban.

“The lesson here is pretty straight forward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations or mandates down our throats,” public policy analyst Michael Boldin said.