In 2016, the Ohio legislature passed HB 523, legalizing medical cannabis. The state intends to have a fully functioning medical marijuana distribution system up and running by September of 2018.
However, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions threw a wrench into legalized marijuana systems in Ohio and other states last week when he repealed an Obama-era policy—known as the Cole memo—of leaving law-abiding marijuana businesses alone in those particular states. Federal prosecutors are now encouraged to enforce federal law, which is that marijuana is considered a Schedule I drug according to the Controlled Substances Act of 1970.
But despite the move by Sessions, Ohio regulators are moving ahead with establishing the medical marijuana program. State regulators are nearing the end of a two-year process to set up Ohio’s highly regulated medical marijuana program. Ohio awarded provisional licenses to 24 marijuana cultivators in November 2017 and licenses for marijuana processors, testing labs, and dispensaries will be awarded in the coming months. The state program will be completely operational by September 8.
State medical marijuana programs are still protected by a federal budget amendment—the Rohrabacher-Farr amendment—that prohibits the Department of Justice from spending money on enforcement in those states. However, this amendment expires on January 19th, which means Congress must act immediately to protect Ohio patients’ access to legal medical marijuana.
In Ohio, marijuana possession of fewer than 100 grams is considered a minor misdemeanor, which is punishable by a maximum fine of $150, plus court costs. Possession of 100 or more, but less than 200 grams of cannabis is a fourth-degree misdemeanor, which results in a jail sentence of up to 30 days and a maximum fine of $250.