Friday, Jun 23, 2017
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Committee of state legislators weigh pot rules

REYNOLDSBURG, Ohio — “Can you believe we're talking about pot? At a public hearing? It's legal.”

Columbus attorney David Cox made the comment today at a public hearing in which those interested in getting into the business of growing marijuana weighed in on rules that will govern cultivators in the newly legal medical cannabis industry.

The rules, which must be finalized by May 6, were the subject before a hearing examiner with the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review.

The bipartisan committee, consisting of five state representatives and five senators, will serve as the last set of eyes to look at the rules before they become official.

Josiah Matthews, of Lima, plans to submit an application for a yet-to-be-determined growing facility outside the city, and he's counting on the rules including a requirement, at least for a while, that those owning and running such operations are from Ohio.

“We need to take another look at the residency requirement to make sure owners are central to Ohio, and are not outside businesses,” he told the hearing officer. “At least 51 percent ownership should be from Ohio...It forces companies from outside to partner with people with families in Ohio and who live here.”

He's been talking about partnering with a company that has submitted a license in Pennsylvania.

But Jason Kabbes, an Ohio State University graduate who moved to Portland, Ore. to be part of that's state's new marijuana industry, doesn't want to be locked out of Ohio's new market.

“The day I saw that it was coming to Ohio, I called my parents and said I'll be back in couple years," he said.

The rules are required to be in place by May 6 under the law passed last year that legalized marijuana for medical use only and set out the broad framework that the Department of Commerce, Ohio Pharmacy Board, and State Medical Board are working to fill as they write the rules under which a new industry will operate.

The law forbids smoking or home-growing of medical cannabis products. At least initially, the product could be used only in oil, edible, patch, tincture, plant matter, or vapor that would be sold through a dispensary that purchases Ohio-only product.

Some witnesses argued that the fees for applying for a license for a growing operation and renewing that license each year are too high and would almost guarantee that only large businesses could participate.

The rules require larger facilities to pay a one-time application fee of $20,000, an initial $180,000 license fee, and $200,000 annual renewal fee thereafter. Smaller facilities would have to pay $2,000 application fee, initial $18,000 licensing fee, and $20,000 annual renewal fee.

The rules provide for a total of 25 cultivating licenses to be up and running before Sept. 8, 2018—12 larger facilities with up to 25,000 square feet of growing space and 12 smaller sites with up to 3,000 square feet.

Unlike the broader ballot issue that failed at the polls two years ago for medical, recreational, and commercial marijuana, neither the law nor the rules spell out the specific parcels for where the cultivating sites would be located. That would come later as potential investors go through the licensing process.

More facilities could be licensed and existing facilities could seek approval to expand after that date if the commerce department determines that the existing infrastructure won’t be able to meet demand under the program.

There were those today who spoke in favor of allowing smoking and home-growing, but that issue is etched in law and not a subject of the rules now before JCARR.

“Where's the compassion?” asked veteran Robert Helwagen. “We hear all about footage and out-of-state investors. Where's the regulation that would allow myself and dysfunctional veterans to grow a small amount of medicine...This is for people who have issues that medical marijuana can correct and alleviate. I myself have seizures, and I've used it for years before it was legal and without taking seizure medication."

The rules for marijuana growing facilities are the first in line, as they must generate the product that will feed the processors and retail dispensaries that will follow. The rules for processors, testing laboratories, dispensaries, and physicians must in place by Sept. 8.

Contact Jim Provance at: jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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