Ohio Bill Would Legalize Medical Marijuana, Foundation to Block Federal Prohibition in Practice

COLUMBUS, Ohio (April 25, 2016) – A bill introduced in the Ohio House would legalize medical marijuana in the state. If signed into law, it would take another step toward thwart the deplorable federal prohibition on cannabis in practice.

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

"The medical marijuana control commission shall establish a medical marijuana control program to provide for the licensure of medical marijuana cultivators, processors, and retail dispensaries, the licensure of laboratories that test medical marijuana, and the regulation of other activities under this chapter relating to medical marijuana. The commission shall administer the program and may take any action necessary to implement and enforce this chapter."

The commission would have a year to establish a regulatory structure for medical marijuana based on specific criteria laid out in the bill. Under the proposed structure, physicians licensed by the state medical board and certified by the medical marijuana commission would be able to recommend medical marijuana to their patients. It would also allow the establishment of dispensaries and cultivation facilities.

Many activists have indicated they believe a ballot initiative would lead to a better medical marijuana program. The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), is heading up a ballot effort. The organization plans to move forward despite the introduced legislation.

“We remain committed to giving Ohio voters the opportunity to adopt the most effective and well-written medical marijuana law possible,” Mason Tvert, MPP’s communications director, told Marijuana.com in an email following the lawmakers’ announcement. “It would be foolish to assume the legislature, which has failed to act on this issue for years, will actually pass a good medical marijuana bill in a matter of months,” he said. “We also don’t know what their proposal will end up looking like, whereas we’re confident that the measure we’re proposing is very tightly worded and will produce a sensible, fair, and compassionate medical marijuana program.”

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

EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION

If the governor signs HB523, it would partially remove one layer of law prohibiting the possession and use of marijuana in Ohio, but federal prohibition would remain 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 bill would not alter federal law, they would take a 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.

Once HB523 becomes law, the state will join 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.

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HB523 will be referred to a committee where it will need to pass by a majority vote before moving on the the full House for a vote.