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Ferguson backs marijuana measure

COLUMBUS — Cannabis would be legalized, taxed and regulated under legislation announced Tuesday by state Reps. Ron Ferguson and Jamie Callender.

The Ohio Adult-Use Act would extend Ohio’s current medical marijuana program to include nonmedicinal adult use, putting in place a responsible, highly-regulated framework for the growth, processing, distribution and sale of marijuana and marijuana products for Ohioans 21 and older, the supporters explained.

The plan would impose a 10 percent sales tax on adult-use marijuana and marijuana products, with funding dedicated to combat chemical dependence and illegal drug trafficking, and support the state’s general revenue fund.

Nearly a third of states have authorized adult-use, including four this year: Connecticut, New Mexico, Virginia and New York. The Ohio Adult-Use Act builds on best practices from around the country.

“Across Ohio and America, there is strong public support for responsible laws allowing those 21 and over to legally purchase and use marijuana and marijuana products,” said Callender, R-Concord. “It’s time that we think seriously about where our state will fit in this growing market and position ourselves for the best possible outcome. This proposal starts that conversation.”

Under the bill, Ohio’s successful Medical Marijuana Control Program would be extended to regulate the nonmedical cultivation, processing, sale and adult-use of cannabis products. It would be renamed the Division of Marijuana Control to reflect its role in running the medical marijuana and adult-use programs.

Building on the current program is one of the keys for having a secure adult-use initiative, the legislators said, including ensuring juveniles and other Ohioans under the age of 21 are barred from access to marijuana and marijuana products.

“This is an issue of individual rights, and there is strong public support for responsible laws allowing those 21 and older to legally purchase and use marijuana and marijuana products,” said Ferguson, R-Wintersville. “We believe it’s important that Ohio’s adult-use program be secure and responsible, from seed to sale.”

Ferguson’s district includes all of Jefferson and Monroe counties and a portion of Belmont County. Callendar’s district includes the eastern portion of Lake County.

All sales would take place in secure, regulated and approved locations, and only to Ohioans 21 and older with a valid ID.

In addition to legislative action in state capitols across the country, there is also federal debate on the issue. Marijuana is currently a Schedule 1 substance under the Controlled Substances Act, but efforts to de-schedule it are gaining traction.

“Ohio should act quickly on this issue,” Callender said. “Failure to establish guardrails will put Ohio at a disadvantage economically and could jeopardize the safety Ohio’s adult users moving forward.”

Supporters of the proposal include PharmaCann, a licensed cultivator and processor with three dispensary locations, and Acreage Holdings, also licensed to cultivate, process and dispense marijuana products in Ohio.

“The PharmaCann foot print in Ohio is growing and aims to be the most admired in the industry thanks to leaders like Callender and Ferguson,” said Cardi Campbell, general manager of the PharmaCann Buckeye Lake facility.

Kate Nelson, general manager for Ohio for Acreage holdings, agreed.

“We recognize that Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program in its current state is restrictive and limits access to medical cannabis for many patients in Ohio. We’re grateful to Ferguson and Callendar for creating a thoughtful program expansion, which would enable a greater number of Ohioans access to their medicine while also creating additional jobs and economic benefits,” Nelson said.

Other highlights of the legislation include:

≤ Requiring tight controls in the marijuana cultivation and distribution processes to assure a high standard of quality and safety with the Department of Commerce in charge of compliance;

≤ Preventing the state from discriminating against individuals engaged in legal, adult-use of marijuana who are seeking licensure from the state without jeopardizing employer choice or worker safety; and

≤ Urging Congress to enact H.R. 3105 of the 117th Congress sponsored by U.S. Rep. Dave Joyce, R-Bainbridge Township, which allows for the reasonable de-scheduling of marijuana and encouraging them to recognize the Second Amendment rights of Ohioans who legally use cannabis products in Ohio.

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