COLUMBUS, Ohio (Dec. 22, 2021) – Last week, the Ohio Senate passed a bill that would significantly expand the state’s medical marijuana program despite federal cannabis prohibition.
Sen. Steve Huffman (R), and Sen. Kenny Yuko (D) introduced Senate Bill 261 (SB261) on Nov. 9. The legislation would expand access to medical marijuana to any patient if a physician “reasonably” believes cannabis would relieve their symptoms or if they would otherwise benefit from marijuana.
Marijuana Moment called it a potentially “massive expansion of eligibility.”
SB261 would also broadly revise Ohio’s medical marijuana regulatory system. Huffman said the goal is to streamline the regulatory structure. The bill will create the Division of Marijuana Control housed in the Commerce Department. Huffman said he thinks streamlining the regulatory structure will encourage more licenses as the market grows and put pressure on license holders to bring products to market rapidly.
On Dec. 15, the Senate passed SB261 by a 26-5 vote.
EFFECT ON FEDERAL PROHIBITION
While marijuana has become more widely accepted across the U.S., under federal law, it remains illegal. As we’ve seen with immigration sanctuary cities, when state and local enforcement ends, the federal government has an extremely difficult time enforcing their acts.
Under the federal Controlled Substances Act (CSA) passed in 1970, the federal government maintains complete prohibition of marijuana. Of course, the federal government lacks any constitutional authority to ban or regulate cannabis within the borders of a state, despite the opinion of the politically connected lawyers on the Supreme Court. If you doubt this, ask yourself why it took a constitutional amendment to institute federal alcohol prohibition.
Ohio legalized medical marijuana in 2016, removing a layer of laws punishing the possession and use of marijuana in the state. But federal prohibition remains in effect. This is significant because FBI statistics show that law enforcement makes approximately 99 of 100 marijuana arrests under state, not federal law. When states stop enforcing marijuana laws, they sweep away most of the basis for 99 percent of marijuana arrests.
Furthermore, figures indicate it would take 40 percent of the DEA’s yearly budget just to investigate and raid all of the dispensaries in Los Angeles – a single city in a single state. That doesn’t include the cost of prosecution. The lesson? The feds lack the resources to enforce marijuana prohibition without state assistance.
A GROWING MOVEMENT
Colorado, Washington state, Oregon and Alaska were the first states to legalize recreational cannabis, and California, Nevada, Maine and Massachusetts joined them after ballot initiatives in favor of legalization passed in November 2016. Michigan followed suit when voters legalized cannabis for general use in 2018. Vermont became the first state to legalize marijuana through a legislative act in 2018. Illinois followed suit in 2019. New Jersey, Montana and Arizona all legalized recreational marijuana through ballot measures in the 2020 election. Earlier this year, New York, New Mexico, and Virginia. Connecticut became the 18th state to legalize adult-use marijuana earlier this year.
With 36 states allowing cannabis for medical use, and 18 legalizing for adult recreational use, the feds find themselves in a position where they simply can’t enforce prohibition anymore.
The lesson here is pretty straightforward. When enough people say, ‘No!’ to the federal government, and enough states pass laws backing those people up, there’s not much the feds can do to shove their so-called laws, regulations, or mandates down our throats.
Efforts to expand the medical marijuana program in Ohio highlights another important strategic reality. Once a state legalizes marijuana – even if only in a very limited way – the law tends to eventually expand. As the state tears down some barriers, markets develop and demand expands. That creates pressure to further relax state law. These new laws represent a further erosion of unconstitutional federal marijuana prohibition.
SB261 will now move to the House for further consideration. At the time of this report, it had not been referred to a Senate committee. Once it receives a committee assignment, it must pass by a majority vote before moving forward in the legislative process.
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