Governor John Kasich signed Ohio’s medical cannabis bill into law yesterday making the midwest state America’s 25th official medical marijuana state.
An outspoken critic of medical marijuana, Kasich waited two weeks to sign the bill which was approved by both the state’s House and Senate in late May. The governor likely approved this bill since it’s a restrictive one that prevents Ohio’s medical cannabis patients from inhaling marijuana smoke.
As is the case in similar restricted medical marijuana states like New York and Minnesota, the law permits patients to vaporize and ingest edibles, tinctures, and cannabis pills. Qualifying patients are prohibited from growing cannabis in their homes.
In response, a more liberal bill spearheaded by the Marijuana Policy Project that hoped to make November’s ballot recently ended its own campaign. While this decision will prevent Ohio’s patients without chronic health issues from accessing medical marijuana, at least some patients in the state will see safe access.
The program expects to begin serving patients in two years after the licensing and regulatory process has been completed.
Marijuana, specifically medical cannabis, has been getting plenty of press lately. CNN recently aired Weed 3, the third installment in Dr. Sanjay Gupta’s marijuana documentary series. In it, Gupta focused on the medical benefits of cannabis, specifically to treat veterans with PTSD. The show also covered the tremendous bureaucratic hurdles that prevent effective marijuana research.
The documentary, an objective and moderate survey of current marijuana research studies and the politics behind legal pot, has been viewed by millions, serving as a powerful educational tool. Gupta, known for his former opposition to medical cannabis, is now one of its most ardent supporters.
Progress Meets Republican Defiance
Despite educational documentaries like Weed 3, medical cannabis laws in 24 states, and a middle America that is waking to the reality of marijuana efficacy, powerful Luddites — typically in the form of Republican senators and governors — still wield power and influence. Within the past week, three prominent conservative politicians, all of whom are mulling the office of president, have gone public with their opposition to marijuana legalization at any level — medicinal or recreational.
Earlier this week, New Jersey governor Chris Christie said during an interview that, if president, he would enforce federal law in all states that currently permit medical or recreational use of cannabis. In other words, Christie would openly oppose the will of the voters in any state in the nation that went counter to federal law and legalized any type of cannabis use.
Rubio Echoes Christie
Adding to this conservative dialog is Marco Rubio, the junior senator from Florida who, like Christie, is rumored to be contemplating a presidential run in 2016. While being interviewed by radio host Hugh Hewitt, Rubio expressed his respect for states crafting their own laws, but ultimately said that federal law should trump the efforts of renegade states to legalize marijuana. Rubio told Hewitt during his interview:
“I think we need to enforce our federal laws. Now do states have a right to do what they want? They don’t agree with it, but they have their rights. But they don’t have a right to write federal policy as well….”
“I don’t believe we should be in the business of legalizing additional intoxicants in this country for the primary reason that when you legalize something, what you’re sending a message to young people is it can’t be that bad, because if it was that bad, it wouldn’t be legal.”
Kasich will Oppose ResponsibleOhio
Finally, another 2016 Republican presidential nominee hopeful, John Kasich, the governor of Ohio, also spoke out on Hewitt’s show about his stance on marijuana legalization. Kasich said he is “totally opposed” to legalization, but also said he’s not sure that, as president, he would oppose states like Colorado and Washington that have imposed legalization that goes counter to federal law.
Kasich turns out to be the most moderate when it comes to cannabis legalization among these three possible Republican presidential candidates. While he said, if president, he wouldn’t interfere with states that choose to legalize, he did say that he is officially opposed to any legalization effort in his own state — a thinly veiled reference to ResponsibleOhio and its 2015 ballot initiative to legalize both recreational and medical cannabis in the Buckeye State.
Despite his prediction that, as president, he’d allow states like Colorado and Alaska to legalize cannabis within their own borders, Kasich compared the dangers of cannabis to heroin, proving his ignorance of medical efficacy issues. For those in Ohio who are excited about the prospects of legal medical and recreational cannabis, it should be remembered that Ohio’s efforts to legalize will be opposed not only by Kasich and most of the Ohio legislature, but also by a variety of conservative factions within government, business, and organized religion.
Cannabis consumers and those who advocate medical marijuana are excited. As they should be.
Nearly half the states in the nation now allow some form of legal marijuana for medical purposes. Four states (Colorado, Washington, Oregon, and Alaska) and the District of Columbia now enjoy legal recreational herb with a variety of restrictions, from the ban on outdoor growing in Colorado to the prohibition of personal cultivation of any type in Washington.
Laws to legalize recreational and medical use of cannabis are popping up across the nation — even in typically conservative states like Arizona, Illinois, and Ohio.
However, much of this progress is accompanied by a backlash. While states like California and Colorado are commonly considered models of safe access that provide an alternative to the black market, it’s not all peaches and cream. Dozens of communities in Colorado, Oregon, and Washington have banned sales of both medical and recreational herb in an effort to prevent this plant-based medicine from becoming established within their borders.
What About Everyone Else?
If this type of backlash is being experienced in the country’s most progressive states, what about other areas? Plenty of cannabis consumers are excited in the Buckeye State, where an investment group/political action committee called ResponsibleOhio is gathering signatures for a November ballot issue that would legalize medical and recreational cannabis. If it becomes law, the legislation would impose a highly regulated infrastructure for the cultivation, sale, medical dispensation, and use of pot.
However, when one digs into the details of the bill, it becomes apparent that the governor, John Kasich — a conservative Republican with a history of opposing high-speed rail, safe access to abortions, and teacher’s unions — could really put a dent in the plans of ResponsibleOhio.
Under the proposed legislation, Kasich would appoint a board of seven members to regulate and manage Ohio’s cannabis industry. The only problem: Kasich is staunchly opposed to cannabis legalization for any reason. If he chooses to defy the spirit of the law and appoints oppositional figures to manage Ohio’s pot business, they may purposefully drag their feet or impose overly restrictive regulations that leave many entrepreneurs and consumers feeling cheated and without medicine.
Because ResponsibleOhio was able to gather enough signatures to make the November ballot, conservative legislators in Columbus have been scrambling. Recently, lawmakers put on the ballot a bill that would prevent monopolies from becoming enshrined in the state’s constitution. Because of the way the two bills are written, the anti-monopoly law would go into effect immediately, whereas cannabis legalization ala ResponsibleOhio would go into effect in 30 days, on December 3 — meaning it would be instantly nullified, regardless of by how wide a margin it might win.
Whether Ohio’s politicians are motivated most by a disdain for legal cannabis or a true aversion to state-sponsored monopolies is uncertain. What is obvious is that opponents of ResponsibleOhio are using every trick in the book to stop it in its tracks. Will conservative senators and representatives similarly attack future voter initiatives to legalize recreational cannabis that don’t involve monopolies?
Despite a federal ban that prohibits the Department of Justice from interfering with the states where medical marijuana is legal, the feds continue to bust medical dispensaries in California, Washington, and other states. DOJ officials have gone on record saying they believe their actions are legal and that they are simply enforcing the federal-level ban on marijuana.
Even ResponsibleOhio’s plan to allow adults to grow up to four mature plants would, technically, go against national law and expose growers to the possibility of prosecution at the federal level. Even more intimidating for citizen gardeners: Ohio would require growers to register with the state, a database that could potentially get into the hands of the feds. This is especially possible if Kasich and his seven appointees decided they wanted to play mean. While it’s unlikely that someone growing three plants to avoid the black market would come under the eye of the feds, it’s certainly possible.
In July, Congress killed a bill intended to allow limited research of medical cannabis. The effort was apparently snuffed 0ut by the House Judiciary Committee, which is led by Virginia Republican Robert Goodlatte. This is the definition of conservative backlash and epitomizes the culture war over cannabis: The bill would have limited such research to studies conducted by the National Institutes of Health (NIH) under guidance from the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA).
Some in Congress, like Virginia Rep Robert Goodlatte and Maryland Congressman Andy Harris (a physician), are so opposed to objective, scientific studies of cannabis that they will not allow even their own drug war warriors, the DEA, to manage their own medical research organization, the NIH, for very limited studies. This latest Congressional opposition to cannabis studies of any type illustrates the fact that robust, productive research of the herb in the treatment of conditions like cancer, muscular dystrophy, arthritis, and anxiety will not occur until cannabis is reclassified as Schedule II or lower under the Controlled Substances Act.
While many will analogize cannabis legalization to same-sex marriage and LGBT issues, it is more akin to climate change. By refusing to perform cannabis research itself and blocking all other clinical studies in the United States by maintaining the Schedule I status of cannabis, the nation’s legislators are burying their collective heads in the sand.
This is the dark side at its best. And the Force is strong, well funded, and mostly opposed to any form of cannabis legalization.
Make no mistake, as more progress is made at the state level, Congress, corporate interests, and the leaders in D.C. won’t simply sit back and watch prohibition crumble around them. As more states jump on the legalization bandwagon, federal and state opposition will become increasingly vocal and threatening. Unlike in Canada, where medical marijuana exists at the federal level, no national protections are in force for medical or recreational cannabis consumers in the United States.