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A new medical marijuana initiative has been introduced in Ohio – one aiming to curtail the monopoly and full legalization issues that forced voters to strike down Issue 3 in the state last November.

The new proposal — a state Constitution amendment authored by the Marijuana Policy Project — was “very intentionally drafted…to avoid type[s] of oligopoly or monopoly,” MPP Communication Director Mason Tvert in an interview with Leafly.

The plan is already drawing criticism due to a $500,000 application fee. That fee, according to the proposal, pertains to a “type 1 medical marijuana cultivation” license which would permit cultivation of up to 25,000-square-feet of “flowering canopy.” Only fifteen large-scale type 1 licenses would be issued.

However, the limited type 1 license would not be the only option available to would-be medical marijuana producers in the state. A small-scale type 2 license, allowing up to 5,000-square-feet of cultivation, carries an application fee of $5,000 – a fraction of the large scale option. There would be an “unlimited” number of these small scale licenses available which aims to allow more small-time operators in the state.

In his interview with Leafly, Tvert explained that the large scale, big money, license would help provide cash to the system in its early stages “to ensure that it can get off the ground and operate.”   

“One of the things we constantly see with marijuana laws is that there are too many things required up front, from the state government, and no revenue to fund what needs to get done,” he said in the report.

The logic for having two license tiers is quite simple: let the deep-pocketed producers infuse cash into the system, while allowing smaller producers an opportunity at a fraction of the cost.

Raising money via application fees is necessary for this program’s success because it neither creates new taxes on the drug nor relies on tax monies to operate, Tvert explained in an email.

The money raised via fees would support the creation of the Medical Marijuana Control Division and a Medical Marijuana Advisory Board. The five-member Medical Marijuana Control Division would develop and enforce rules, implement programs and license businesses, according to the proposition text. The Division would need funds for salaries and expenses, to hire employees, and contract advisors and consultants. As written, the proposal covers chronic diseases including, but not limited to: cancer, HIV/AIDS, seizures, glaucoma, post-traumatic stress disorder; Chron’s, Alzheimer’s and Lou Gehrig’s disease and wasting syndrome. Patients would be required to pay a $40 license fee permitting them to possess up to two-and-a-half ounces of marijuana. The fee could be waved in cases of financial hardship.

The nine-member Medical Marijuana Advisory Board would advise the Division on matters of patient confidentiality and access, medical marijuana cultivation, processing, manufacturing, transporting and testing, and recommend rule guidelines and changes. Members would not be salaried, according to the proposition text, but would receive expense reimbursement.

Dr. Mitch Earleywine, a member of the Advisory Board for NORML, says he “appreciates that the licensing fee will go down so dramatically” for the smaller producers, especially considering that monopoly fears was a driving force behind Issue 3’s downfall.

“I know that there is a lot of worry about ‘Big Marijuana’ and folks try to draw parallels between Big Tobacco and I just think that is definitely a double edged sword,” he said. “It’s good to have companies that are really going to flourish but we don’t want to see some kind of monopoly situation.”

Earleywine thinks this new proposal is an improvement over Issue 3, “if only because it will give more folks a chance to handle production.”

Tvert says this bill incorporates the “best practices” utilized in other states with medical marijuana programs and, due to Ohioans’ incredibly high support for medical marijuana – anywhere from 74 percent to 90 percent depending on the poll – the proposal has a better shot of being enacted over its predecessor.

“The initiative completely avoids the oligopoly-style licensing system that raised many concerns for voters in Responsible Ohio’s 2015 initiative,” he said. “Whereas their initiative only allowed for 10 pre-determined marijuana cultivation licenses, our initiative allows for an unlimited number of cultivation licenses and a competitive licensing process.”

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