By: Mark Barnes, Esq.
As all Ohioans should know, medical marijuana is legal in Ohio. Ohioans with a qualifying condition and a recommendation from a treating physician licensed to recommend marijuana, may use marijuana to treat such a condition in the following forms: raw plant material, tinctures, edibles, patches, oils, and vaping. Smoking marijuana in Ohio is prohibited. Vaping is not considered smoking because the process in vaping involves heating the marijuana material to a temperature which is below combustion.
Although smoking marijuana is currently illegal in Ohio, two ballot issues to legalize recreational marijuana use (including smoking marijuana) are currently in play. In March, 2020, The Marijuana Rights and Regulations initiative and the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative were submitted to the Ohio Attorney General. To be included on the November ballot, these initiatives need 443,000 valid signatures from registered voters by July 1, 2020. Both initiatives have suffered critical setbacks. On March 10, 2020, Attorney General Dave Yost rejected certification of the summary of the Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol initiative because the summary was not fair and truthful. On March 23, 2020, Attorney General Yost rejected the petition for the Marijuana Rights and Regulations initiative because it did not contain 1000 valid signatures.
The recent coronavirus/COVID-19 health crisis has created additional obstacles for recreational marijuana advocates. Considering the Ohio Director of Health extended the Stay at Home order until May 1, 2020 and the nationwide social distancing mandates, it seems improbable the marijuana initiatives will be able to obtain the necessary signatures for inclusion on the November ballot.
Further complicating the path to legalization of recreational marijuana, the National Institute of Health (NIH) issued a statement on its website that smoking and vaping marijuana may amplify the symptoms of COVID-19 because of the potential damage smoking and vaping have on lung health. Smoking and vaping, whether it is marijuana or tobacco, cause some degree of inflammation in the lungs. Because COVID-19 is a respiratory disease of the lungs, NIH recommends against smoking or vaping during the present health crisis. This kind of statement from a leading health authority may negatively impact campaigns to legalize recreational marijuana. It is unclear whether the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program will address vaping marijuana in light of NIH’s announcement.