An Ohio group has filed petitions to add a “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol” amendment to the state’s constitution. If the proposed amendment makes it...

An Ohio group has filed petitions to add a “Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol” amendment to the state’s constitution. If the proposed amendment makes it to the ballot in November and passes, it will allow adult-use cannabis sales to commence in Ohio on July 1, 2021.

Tom Haren, a partner at Frantz Ward and spokesman for the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol group, told Cannabis Dispensary that the decision to file the petitions arose in light of confusing 90-day product allotments in its medical program and a refusal by the state medical board to add qualifying conditions to the program.

A lack of access for Ohioans with conditions such as anxiety and autism, and the need to provide them with product, are among those concerns about qualifying conditions, Haren says.

“A number of people have had doubts for a while about this state’s willingness and interest in actually providing a program that works for Ohio patients,” he says.

RELATED: Ohio’s Medical Cannabis Is Too Expensive and Inconvenient, According to a Patient Survey

The Ohio Attorney General has 10 days from the filing date of March 2 to certify ballot language, according to a press release from Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol.

The Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol Amendment would provide legal access to cannabis for adults who are 21 or older. It would also legalize home grows and include provisions that aim to help communities hurt by cannabis prohibition, among other measures, according to the initiative text.

The amendment would also allow the Ohio General Assembly to set a sales tax on adult-use cannabis sales. Flexibility in the tax rate would create to-be-determined allowances, such as provisions for the Department of Commerce to draft rules, Haren says.

From the sales tax that the amendment would allow the General Assembly to set, 25% of revenue would go to a fund to create a Commission on Expungement, Criminal Justice, Community Investment, and Cannabis Industry Equity and Diversity. Another 50% would be allocated to the State Local Government Fund. At least 10% of the remaining funds would be sent back to the local governments of municipalities where retail sales took place.

In addition, social equity provisions in the amendment would require the Department of Commerce to study racial discrimination in the state’s medical marijuana industry, according to the initiative description.

“Once they do that study, they have to implement remedies prior to issuing new licenses so that we have social equity in the very first round of new license applications,” Haren says.

More information on the proposed amendment can be found here.

The ballot initiative committee

The committee sponsoring the amendment comprises four Ohioans: Carrie Beebe of Marysville, Anthony Riley of Columbus, Evan Spencer of Columbus and Dr. Mark Welty of New Philadelphia.

Beebe, who has 9-year-old twin sons with autism, was quoted in the press release as saying that the Ohio medical marijuana program has failed Ohio residents who require treatment through cannabis but are unable to get it.

“My sons, Landon and Logan, do not respond to the synthetic drugs provided to help with the symptoms of autism,” Beebe said in her public statement. “Autism should be a condition that is covered in Ohio’s medical marijuana program to help families like mine and individuals like my sons. As a parent, I at least want the option for my sons when they become adults.”

Meanwhile, Riley, a cannabis reform activist and patient advocate, noted that cannabis prohibition hurts communities of color in Ohio, as well as “other sick, disabled, and poor Ohioans” who try to use medical marijuana as an opioid alternative.

Spencer, a former Ohio State and NFL football player, believes cannabis should be used to treat pain instead of opioids, citing the opioid epidemic and the high prescription of opioids to manage pain in sports. Welty agreed.

“When the Ohio State Medical Board refused to allow the addition of opioid use disorder and anxiety as qualifying conditions under Ohio’s medical program—despite the medical evidence supporting their addition—it became clear to me that Ohio politicians had no real interest in supporting an effective medical marijuana program,” Welty, a mental health specialist, said in the public statement.

A dispensary manager’s perspective on Ohio’s medical program

Less than two weeks ahead of Herbology’s March 3 medical dispensary opening in Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, the company’s director of new markets, Brandon Smith, provided Cannabis Dispensary with a tour of the storefront and spoke about the state’s existing medical program.

One upside to the state’s program is that caregivers can help patients who have mobility issues, are traveling or are otherwise unable to come into the dispensary to retrieve product. Herbology currently operates dispensaries in Ohio, Pennsylvania and Maryland.

“The caregiver can purchase just like patients,” Smith said. “It’s basically just an attachment to your profile. They can come in and make any and all purchases for you, and you don’t ever have to come into the store once. They share the allotment.”

However, what exactly that allotment is can be confusing to patients, caregivers and even dispensary staff, Smith said. He shared that he advises patients to buy in bulk and to buy early because, he says, “If you don’t use it, you are literally losing it within the cycle.”

“Every patient struggles with this allotment, and it’s really challenging for the staff,” Smith said. “The other thing is a lot of patients don’t understand [that] it’s not the dispensary staff’s fault that we’re struggling to explain it because the state can’t even explain it to us very well. So, I try to create analogies at every step.”

He likened the allotment to 30-day prescriptions for pills but noted that there are purchasing requirements that are specific to cannabis, such as THC levels and, with flower, weight.

“It’s wrong; it’s not right; it’s not how it should work; it’s not how it works in any other state,” Smith said of the allotments. “But it’s the way they’ve done it. It’s very unique. They’re trying to put a lot of controls in place.”

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