Ohio State Sen. Steve Huffman was the lead sponsor for legislation that would consolidate regulation in one agency and expand the number of qualifying conditions for medical patients.

On Wednesday the Ohio State Senate passed, by a wide margin, a cannabis bill that revises the state’s medical marijuana law, expands the list of qualifying conditions for medical marijuana, and consolidates regulation into a single agency.

SB261 is business-friendly and patient-focused,” said chief sponsor State Senator Stephen Huffman, who appeared jovial during Wednesday’s session as he managed floor debate on the bill.

“This bill is not about if we have a medical marijuana program in Ohio, it’s about making it business-friendly and improving on what we did five years ago.”

However, one leading cannabis advocate questions the motives behind the legislation.

SB261 completely eliminates the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (MMCP),” criticized Simon Dunkle, an activist with NORML Appalachia of Ohio. “They’re just basically going to parasite the Medical Marijuana Control Program and expand under that umbrella and that’s exactly what they did.”

Dunkle later cautioned that this was his personal opinion and not that of his organization.

Ohio’s medical cannabis program is currently jointly administered by the Board of Pharmacy, the Department of Commerce, and the State Medical Board. The bill transfers portions of the MMCP currently overseen by the Board of Pharmacy, to a newly created Division of Marijuana Control (DMC) within the Department of Commerce, according to language in the bill.

“It’s a puzzle made out of Jello,” Dunkle complained. “They’re just going to expand recreational use under the medical umbrella so that they’ve got control of it.”

Retail dispensaries will continue to submit required information on medical marijuana dispensed to patients to the Board of Pharmacy. The bill also abolishes the MMCP.

“To the best of my knowledge, it would move what’s currently being done by the Board of Pharmacy to Commerce’s purview,” Jennifer Jarrell, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Commerce told Grown In.

“[Medical marijuana law] HB523 became effective on September 8, 2016, just over five years ago, so it’s not unexpected that the legislature would be interested in reviewing it and making changes.” a statement from the MMCP read.

Once the MMCP goes under the Department of Commerce, it’s no longer in the same management scope, Dunkle said.

“They’re loading up for recreation,” he added. “They want to control the monopoly on it and that’s the end of it.”

The bill also requires the Board of Pharmacy and the Department of Commerce to collaborate on a medical cannabis equity study to determine whether there is “compelling” interest to implement remedial measures to assist minorities and women in the medical cannabis industry.

“We’re long overdue for that study,” said Tasha Rountree, a cannabis activist in Dayton, Ohio. “That clause was put in there to keep us out of the initial development of the cannabis space. Here we are in year five and we still haven’t had that study.”

Lowering some of the cost requirements so that African Americans can participate, is one of the barrier issues Rountree would like to see addressed.

“I’ve been running expungement clinics with wraparound services to help people become stable and clean their records so they can get a job,” she said. You can’t invest in cannabis, own a business in cannabis or work in cannabis, if you have a record. We know there’s a disproportionate amount of African Americans who received tickets or some kind of penalty for cannabis and that put us out of the ability to be investors in this industry.”

Rountree would like to see the requirement for license applicants to have $250,000 in the bank be lowered to maybe $100,000. She’d also like to see the licensing fees lowered.

“We’d also like to see funds allocated to a structured fund so that once a social equity applicant gets their business up and running, the business can be financially supported with subsidies.”

Note: This article was updated on December 17, 2021.

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Brad Spirrison is a journalist, serial entrepreneur and media ecologist. He lives in Chicago with his son. Interests include music, meditation and Miles Davis.