Tuesday, July 23, 2024

Issue 2: What’s the Ohio Weed Update?

In November 2023, Ohio’s Issue 2 passed 57-43% and went into effect a month later. We talked about the controversial measure in detail before, but in short, it legalized adult-use marijuana for individuals 21 years and older, including smoking, vaping and ingestible cannabis, growing up to 12 plants per household and selling THC-based products for non-medical use.

There is the rub. Non-medical. As of this article, Ohioans still cannot buy marijuana legally without a referral from a medical doctor. But there is light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. The first licensing has opened, allowing current medical facilities to eventually offer their merchandise to the public.

State level roadblocks at a glance

The first major roadblock was government in-fighting. In December 2023, the state Senate proposed to allow medical dispensaries to begin recreational operations immediately. However, the proposal included limits on personal grow rights, ceilings on THC levels and attempts to ban most vape products.

The House refused to back said proposal, with representatives claiming it went against what Ohioans voted for in November. Beyond state government, there were and will continue to be local challenges to the availability of cannabis products.

Bodies such as the Ohio Division of Cannabis Control (DCC), however, are hard at work ensuring deadlines are met and the process is moving forward despite the expected squabbling and foot dragging.

Local moratoriums and regulations

By definition, a moratorium is a temporary setback to the recreational marijuana business in Ohio, but it is a setback, nonetheless. 55 localities, including Perrysburg right here in Northwest Ohio, have enacted such motions, prohibiting or limiting adult-use cannabis and the operation of marijuana-related businesses.

This type of ordinance is common in most legal-use states, excluding New Mexico, Rhode Island, Maryland and Minnesota.

Even in localities without an active moratorium, there is always the risk that when facility licenses are issued, local governments could exercise their right to pass a moratorium within 120 days of issuance. If this occurs, state-licensed dispensaries would have 60 days to cease operations.

First round of licensing has begun

As of June 7, medical facilities are now able to apply for what the DCC and Department of Commerce are calling dual licenses, which allow current medical facilities to expand into the non-medical niche. 

According to the DOC, this meets Issue 2 deadlines for when initial licenses were supposed to become available. It is yet unknown how long each application will take to process and approve or when exactly the first non-medical dispensaries will open for business. As they say, it will not happen overnight.

The DOC is clear in reiterating that “currently there are no individuals or entities licensed to sell non-medical cannabis in the state of Ohio, and any sale of marijuana prior to non-medical licenses being issued may be subject to criminal penalties (Ohio DOC).”

Superintendent of DCC Jim Canepa issued a statement that was one part optimistic and one part realistic. Voters laid out the process and timeline for licenses to be issued, and while there is uncertainty for how the approval process is going to look, the regulatory department is moving forward within Issue 2’s prescriptive parameters.

At the same time, people like Tom Haren, an advocate for the Ohio Cannabis Coalition, are more hopeful that the time is now. Ohio should start to see dispensary operations right away with applications being processed.

What does licensing look like?

While there are some similarities between adult-use marijuana licenses and state liquor licenses, there are key differences. Liquor licenses are population quota based, while cannabis permits and licenses will not follow that exact process. State liquor agencies are often placed via a market-based system, which will be a similar process to the “big bang” rollout of marijuana facilities, with 200-250 initial dispensaries projected.

The next deadline comes September 7, when provisional licenses must be issued. There are no other applications beyond current medical cultivators and dispensary license holders available at this time, but after the DCC issues its initial round of approvals, the first non-medical marijuana sales in Ohio can occur.

Nearly 24 months after the initial medical to non-medical licensing push, interested new owners will be elligible to apply. So, in two years, anyone who is interested (and patient enough) in venturing into the legal weed business can take their first steps into this new market.

For the latest information, skip the middleman and visit either the DCC or DOC website: Ohio Division of Cannabis Control or Ohio Department of Commerce-Nonmedical Cannabis FAQ.

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