This is proving to be a big year for cannabis. As a result, we are ranking the fifty states from worst to best on how they treat cannabis and those who consume it. Each of our State of Cannabis posts will analyze one state and our final post will crown the best state for cannabis. As is always the case, but particularly so with this series, we welcome your comments. We have finally crossed the half-way point. The states featured going forward generally have mixed laws when it comes to cannabis. Some good, some bad, and some ugly. Today we turn to number 20: Ohio.
Our previous rankings are as follows: 21. New Jersey; 22. Illinois; 23. Minnesota; 24. New York; 25. Wisconsin; 26. Arizona; 27. West Virginia; 28. Indiana; 29. North Carolina; 30. Utah; 31. South Carolina; 32. Tennessee; 33. North Dakota; 34.Georgia; 35. Louisiana; 36. Mississippi; 37. Nebraska; 38. Missouri; 39. Florida; 40. Arkansas; 41. Montana; 42. Iowa; 43. Virginia; 44. Wyoming; 45. Texas; 46. Kansas; 47. Alabama; 48. Idaho; 49. Oklahoma; 50. South Dakota.
Criminal Penalties. Ohio has decriminalized the possession of small amounts of marijuana. Ohio classifies the possession of less than 100 grams of marijuana as a minor misdemeanor. The maximum penalty is a $150 fine and a minor misdemeanor conviction does not create a criminal record. Possession of larger amounts translate to harsher penalties:
- 100-200 grams earns a maximum sentence of 30 days imprisonment and a fine up to $250.
- 200-1,000 grams earns a maximum sentence of 1 year imprisonment and a fine up to $2,500.
- 1,000-20,000 grams earns 1-5 years imprisonment and a fine up to $10,000.
- 20,000-40,000 grams earns 5-8 years imprisonment and a fine up to $15,000
- Over 40,000 grams earns at least 8 years imprisonment and a fine up to $20,000.
Ohio differentiates crimes involving the exchange of marijuana from those simply involving possession. A person who gifts 20 grams of marijuana or less without renumeration can be charged with a minor misdemeanor, earning a maximum fine of $150. A second offense earns up to 60 days imprisonment and a maximum fine of $500. The sale of marijuana is punished as follows:
- Up to 200 grams earns a maximum sentence of 1 year imprisonment and a fine up to $2,500.
- 200-1,000 grams earns a maximum sentence of 18 months imprisonment and a fine up to $2,500.
- 1,000-20,000 grams earns a sentence of 1-5 years imprisonment and a fine up to $10,000.
- 20,000-40,000 grams earns a sentence of 5-8 years imprisonment and a fine up to $20,000.
- Over 40,000 earns at least 8 years imprisonment and a fine up to $20,000.
A person who sells to a minor, within 1,000 feet of a school, or within 100 feet of a minor faces potentially longer terms of imprisonment and increased fines.
Medical marijuana. Ohio made headlines in November 2015 when it voted against legalizing recreational marijuana. Despite that failed legalization effort, advocates for marijuana reform have reason to be excited about the Buckeye State. In June, Governor John Kasich signed into law House Bill 523, legalizing medical marijuana in Ohio. The law goes into effect on September 8, 2016. Like many other medical marijuana states, Ohio requires patients receive a recommendation from a physician who has obtained a cannabis certification from the state medical board. Before a patient can obtain medication the physician must certify in writing that a bona fide physician-patient relationship exists, that the physician requested a report on the patient for the last 12-months, that the physician informed the patient of the risks and benefits of marijuana, that in the physician’s opinion the benefits outweigh the risks, and that the patient has been diagnosed with a qualifying condition. The bill recognizes quite a few qualifying conditions including AIDS, Cancer, Epilepsy, chronic and intractable pain, PTSD, and traumatic brain injury.
House Bill 523 also establishes the Medical Marijuana Control Program, which will license cultivators, processors, laboratories, and retail dispensaries. Cultivators and processors will sell marijuana to dispensaries, who will in turn sell or donate to patients. Ohio will not allow for home grows, so the only way to obtain marijuana legally will be through licensed cannabis entities. None of these marijuana entities are allowed to operate within 500 feet of a school, church, public library, public playground, or public park. It is unlikely that dispensaries will be operational any time soon. Cleveland.com pointed out that patients will not have a legal means to obtain cannabis during this transition period. This will likely force patients to turn to the illegal market for their medical needs.
Ohio’s medical marijuana program is unique in several respects. At this point, there is no indication that dispensaries will be required to operate as non-profits, which has been common in other medical states. Also, ownership interests in marijuana entities will not be limited to Ohio residents. Though these provisions provide flexibility, Ohio’s laws are fairly restrictive in other respects. For example, patients will not be allowed to smoke marijuana; they instead will be compelled to rely on edibles, vapors, tinctures, and other non-smokable forms of marijuana. Ohio is also implementing caps on the amount of THC in marijuana (35% for “plant material” and 70% for extracts) and it is also considering implementing a “closed loop” medical marijuana payment system. This closed loop cannabis payment system is intended to address what has been a major thorn in the side of cannabis businesses: the lack of reliable banking for cannabis businesses. Ohio cannabis patients would receive preloaded cards to use at state-licensed dispensaries. The Ohio Department of Commerce is considering this proposed payment method.
One of the more interesting aspects of Ohio cannabis is its attempt to promote diversity in its cannabis industry. The state plans to issue 15% of available cultivator, processor, laboratory, or retail licenses to entities “owned and controlled” by United States citizens who are residents of Ohio and who “are members of one of the following economically disadvantaged groups: Blacks or African Americans, American Indians, Hispanics or Latinos, and Asians.” If there are no applications or an insufficient number of applications submitted by such cannabis entities, the licenses will issue in accordance with department rules. “Owned and controlled” means “at least fifty-one percent of the business, including corporate stock if a corporation, is owned by persons who belong to one or more of the [foregoing groups], and those owners have control over the management and day-to-day operations of the business and an interest in the capital, assets, and profits and losses of the business proportionate to their percentage of ownership.” This unique approach could address the often noted lack of diversity in the cannabis industry.
Bottomline. At first glance, it may seem surprising to see Ohio ranked this high on our list, especially since there has been so much focus on the state’s failed attempt to legalize cannabis via an oligarchic system. However, most states have yet to even consider full recreational legalization and Ohio has shown progress on marijuana by decriminalizing and legalizing a decent medical marijuana regime. It is too soon to know whether Ohio’s medical cannabis program will be successful, but it has potential and that and its fairly liberal criminal marijuana laws are enough to plant Ohio at number 20 in our 50-state rundown.