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April 01, 2022

Looking Ahead at Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Business

by Luis M. Alcalde, Esq., Kegler Brown Hill + Ritter

Ohio may prefer to double down on medical marijuana to delay approving recreational marijuana.

If recent events are any indication, a doubling of medical marijuana dispensaries and new legislation indicates that key state government actors prefer to expand and liberalize the Ohio medical marijuana program while continuing to oppose recreational marijuana.

The latest dispensary license “lottery” overseen by the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy should lead to the establishment of up to 70 new medical marijuana dispensaries over the next 12 months. The Department of Commerce is similarly allowing cultivators to double the size of their cultivation areas. This means that Ohio will see an increase from the current number of 58 medical marijuana dispensaries to just over 130 and significantly increase production capacity. Additionally, geographic areas which are currently lacking dispensaries should get new dispensaries, providing easier access for patients.

The Ohio legislature is currently considering separate bills that would expand the availability of medical marijuana and legalize adult-use marijuana. However, the medical bills have much better odds of passing. In early March, House Bill 60 passed the House by a vote of 73 to 13 and is now in the Senate for consideration. House Bill 60 legalizes medical marijuana for patients with autism spectrum disorder.

In December 2021, Senate Bill 261 overwhelmingly passed in the Senate and is in the House for consideration. If enacted in its current form, the bill would authorize doctors to recommend medical marijuana for any condition that the doctor believes would benefit their patients. Conversely, the prospects for the legislature to legalize recreational marijuana remain slim due to strong opposition from key legislators. Hence, the best odds to enact recreational marijuana in Ohio still rests with the ability of proponents to place the issue before voters in November.

Marijuana remains illegal at the federal level, and Congress has not passed any meaningful financial reforms to aid the industry. Nevertheless, 38 states have some form of legal medical marijuana, and 18 states, including Michigan, have fully legalized recreational marijuana.

The marijuana industry, including Ohio, employs more than 428,000 people directly and indirectly. This includes direct jobs such as cultivation and retail sales and indirect jobs like legal, accounting, compliance, security, construction and product suppliers.[i] From a tax revenue perspective, in 2021, 10 states with medical and recreational marijuana reported around 3 billion in tax revenue.[ii]

The current trends certainly point to full adult legalization at some point in the future. In the meantime, it is more likely that Ohio will continue to expand the medical program by increasing the number of allowable conditions for which patients can obtain medical marijuana while also increasing medical marijuana production.

[i] Leafly Job Report 2022

[ii] Marijuana Policy Project, January 5, 2022.

The current trends certainly point to full adult legalization at some point in the future. In the meantime, it is more likely that Ohio will continue to expand the medical program by increasing the number of allowable conditions for which patients can obtain medical marijuana while also increasing medical marijuana production.