Ohio’s marijuana grow laws: a foul tool for state control of cannabis, and canna-cash

Ohio’s marijuana grow laws: a foul tool for state control of cannabis, and canna-cash

The state that's legalized cannabis for all the wrong reasons

VicesJanuary 10, 2019 By Will Brendza

The laws for growing marijuana in Ohio are about as ass-backwards as these things can get. Somehow, the Buckeye State has managed to legalize this miracle flower, while at the same time ensuring that they’ve got a racket on the industry, like a cartel controlling its drug supply.

To explain: in 2016 Ohio legalized medical marijuana, which is undoubtedly a hopeful step for any state. But the devil here is in the details. Because, for individuals it is still very much illegal to grow your own cannabis for consumption — even if you’ve got one of those fancy medical cards.

In Ohio, people aren’t allowed to grow pot. Only businesses are.

More specifically, only the 29 businesses that the State hand-picked. Forget that this is a flower, forget that it can be grown safely on just about any window sill in the nation, and forget that people are using it for medicinal purposes — if someone is consuming pot, it better have come from a state sanctioned grower. They better have paid the piper for that bud, or they’re breaking the law.  

And the penalties are steep. Get caught growing 100-200 grams of cannabis for your own consumption and you’re looking at a 4th degree misdemeanor, 30 days in jail and a $250 fine. Anything more than 200 grams and it’s a 5th degree felony, a year in prison and up to $2,500.

Just to put those numbers into perspective, on average, a single marijuana plant yields about 100-250 grams of flower.

This model puts money before people. Had Ohio truly legalized medical marijuana to help sick people, the state wouldn’t give a damn whether or not patients (with medical marijuana cards) grew their own pot.

But, then the state wouldn’t get their cut. If people are out there growing weed all willie-nillie, how’s Ohio gonna’ squeeze this cash crop for all the cash it’s supposedly worth?

By completely controlling the cultivation side of things; by ensuring that the only cannabis legally sold comes from one of their 29 licensed growers. In doing so, Ohio secures a powerful stream of tax revenue that cannot be legally subverted. The state legislature isn’t just bending the market in their favor, they’re hijacking it entirely.

Originally the legislature decided that with 24 growing licenses (12 “level 1,” and 12 “level 2” licenses) they would be able to meet the state’s demand for medical marijuana. They then accepted applications from potential growers, evaluated them in a blind study and awarded the licenses to the best candidates. Realizing that they’d need more than 24 growers, they then added an extra four “level 1” licenses and one more “level 2," bringing the total number of licenses up to 29.

This shuts out any potential new cultivators and establishes these 29 businesses as THE cannabis growers for Ohio — essentially creating an oligopoly.

Since this is such a new model for Ohio, no one really knows how often these cultivation licenses will turn over or change hands, either. But Kerry Francis, the chief of communications for the Ohio Department of Commerce, admits that they are pretty difficult to come by.

“These are highly competitive licenses,” she says. There may eventually be an instance where a cultivator opts out and gives up their license, “But because the program is so new we haven't run into that.”

And it’s doubtful they will. At least, not very often. Maybe there will be occasional turnover if the state revokes a license, but by in large it’s probably safe to bet that these chosen few aren’t going to forfeit their nozzle at the cash fountain.

The other side to all this is industry diversity. With only a handful of businesses responsible for growing, the variety of product is limited. There won’t be the same level of competition between cultivators as there is in Colorado, where everyone and their mother is experimenting with cloning new strains and pushing THC content to the ceiling. The diversity (as well as the quality) of cannabis in Ohio is likely bound to plateau.

Ohio’s cultivation laws are the perfect example of politicians legalizing cannabis for all the wrong reasons. They look at cannabis as a commodity to exploit, as a stream of income they want total control over. So the legislature is holding marijuana in a strange legal limbo — still illegal to grow (and still illegal to smoke) but if you have a med card, you can access it. As long as it comes from a state-sanctioned grower.

(Which is flat out absurd. Colorado recently hit $1 billion in marijuana sales, proving that the state can make a ton of money, regardless of who’s growing the pot.)

What Ohio has done basically sows the seeds for Big Marijuana to blossom in the state. They’re cultivating a network of companies that will become the Marlboros of marijuana, and they’re setting it up so that only a lucky few can benefit from growing it.

And they’re sitting eagerly by, waiting for the eruption of tax money they’re bound to see.