On Tuesday, Ohio voters will cast ballots in primary elections to select each party’s nominee for governor.
The candidates have been talking about marijuana reform on the campaign trail, and we’ve compiled a list detailing each major contender’s stance on the issue.
Richard Cordray, former director of the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau
Seen by some political observers as the favorite to win the Democratic primary nomination, Cordray has been evasive about his stance on marijuana reform since announcing his candidacy in December 2017. The establishment Democrat, endorsed by Massachusetts Sen. Elizabeth Warren (D), has only gone so far as to say that he would respect Ohio voters’ decision if they opted to legalize marijuana and vowed to improve Ohio’s existing medical marijuana program—but he’s declined to clarify his personal views on reform.
“As Governor, Rich Cordray will fix the botched implementation of Ohio’s medical marijuana program to ensure that patients have access to the medicine they need in a safe and affordable manner,” spokesperson Mike Gwin told Marijuana Moment. “He also thinks that the last marijuana ballot referendum failed partly because it was a flawed proposal. He supports voters’ right to propose a new referendum and will follow the will of the voters if it comes to a vote.”
Former Ohio Supreme Court justice Bill O’Neill, one of Cordray’s challengers, offered to drop out of the race if the candidate adopted his pro-legalization stance. But asked to comment on the challenger’s proposal in December, Cordray said simply, “I don’t have anything much to say about that today,” The Statehouse News Bureau reported.
Dennis Kucinich, former U.S. House representative
Though Cordray is considered the “conventional” favorite to win the Democratic primary nomination, Kucinich is his closest competition and still stands a “good chance” of winning, Cleveland.com reported. And when it comes to the issue of marijuana legalization, the former U.S. representative stands in stark contrast to his opponent. Kucinich has campaigned on a consistently pro-legalization agenda—and co-sponsored several bills during his tenure in Congress, ranging from the legalization of agricultural hemp to ending the federal prohibition of marijuana.
I’ve said a lot on these issues. Here are some snippets from my announcement speech. I support #IndustrialHemp and #Marijuana legalization. Check out our extensive platform @ https://t.co/duVmZCJfJL and my record in Congress on these issues. #PowerToWeThePeople #Kucinich4Ohio pic.twitter.com/jYHt79EPQ1
— Dennis Kucinich (@Dennis_Kucinich) February 20, 2018
In March, Kucinich announced that part of his agenda if elected governor would involve working to legalize recreational marijuana and hemp in the state, and allowing medical marijuana patients to grow cannabis for personal use. He’s also argued that expanding access to cannabis would provide pain patients with an alternative to addictive and dangerous painkillers in a state that has been hit hard by the opioid epidemic.
Bill O’Neill, former Ohio Supreme Court justice
Political analysts don’t consider O’Neill a particularly strong contender in the Democratic gubernatorial primary—due in no small part to his brazen social media posts about his past sexual escapades in the wake of misconduct allegations against former Minnesota Sen. Al Franken (D). His viability as a candidate has also been questioned given his lack of name recognition and campaign funding. That said, O’Neill has unequivocally championed marijuana reform throughout his candidacy.
His campaign website reads clearly: “Marijuana should be legal in Ohio. It has many non-addictive medicinal qualities; reduces the dependence on opioids and alcohol; and is a proven job, tax and income producer.”
Early into his run for governor, O’Neill said that he would bow out of the race if Cordray threw his hat into the ring, but he’s since said that he “wants Cordray to agree with him on marijuana legalization and reopening shuttered state mental hospitals to treat opioid addicts,” before he’s willing to exit the race. Cordray declined to comment on O’Neill’s proposal.
.@RichCordrayOH says he doesn't have anything to say about @BillForOhio calling on him to make legalization of marijuana part of his platform. O'Neill said he'd drop out if Cordray does.
— Ben Garbarek (@BenWSYX6) December 5, 2017
Joseph Schiavoni, Ohio senator
The former boxer and current state senator’s candidacy has been met with skepticism— but on at least one issue, he stands out in his adamant support for medical and recreational marijuana legalization in Ohio. He’s co-sponsored legislation in the state to provide access to cannabis for medical marijuana patients and, according to his campaign site, feels that recreational legalization “would provide needed funding to our state and allow police to focus resources on more pressing matters,” adding that any such laws would have to be passed “properly.”
“For example, we need to make sure the money this new industry generates is directed at something specific, such as Ohio’s education system. It should not just go to the state and disappear,” a statement on his campaign site reads.
Two other Democratic candidates, Paul Ray and Larry Ealy, qualified for the November ballot, but their stances on marijuana reform—among many other issues—are unknown. Ray, a candidate who is seemingly without a digital footprint and Ealy, a former exotic dancer who ran for Ohio governor in 2014, are not considered strong candidates by most conventional measures.
Mike DeWine, Ohio attorney general
DeWine is the favorite to win Ohio’s Republican gubernatorial nomination—and he’s resistant to marijuana reform, to say the least. Just days ago, on April 20, the state’s attorney general rejected a petition that sought to fully legalize marijuana in Ohio, Cincinnati.com reported, though he explained that the move had to do with the measure’s language, not its subject matter. The attorney general also visited Colorado in October 2015 to assess how the state’s recreational marijuana system was playing out, but after witnessing the popularity of edibles in the state, he said he was “alarmed.”
Mary Taylor, Ohio lieutenant governor
Though there are few public details about Taylor’s personal stance on medical marijuana legalization, we know at least two things: 1) she’s on the record opposing recreational legalization, and 2) she was vocal in a push to freeze approvals on marijuana grower applications in the state in December 2017 after it was discovered that a convicted drug dealer had been hired as a consultant to grade applicants.
Marijuana Isn’t Addictive, Former A.G. Eric Holder Says
The nation’s former top law enforcement officer is not worried that the legalization of marijuana will lead to addiction.
“I’ve never seen any scientific evidence that points you to concerns about addiction through the use of marijuana,” former U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder said in an interview published on Friday by NY1.
The comments by the former A.G. call into question cannabis’s current status as a Schedule I drug. That category is supposed to be reserved only for substances with no medical value and a high potential for abuse. In fact, it would mean that marijuana should be moved to at least Schedule III, where drugs with “moderate to low potential for physical and psychological dependence” are categorized.
Although Holder did not move to reclassify cannabis when he had the power to do so as attorney general, he did specifically endorse such a change just months after leaving office.
“I certainly think it ought to be rescheduled,” he said in a 2015 interview with PBS.
And he still feels the same way.
“We need to move marijuana from Schedule I, so research can be done,” Holder said in the new NY1 interview. “It is classified now on the same level as heroin is, and clearly that is inappropriate.”
While he did nothing to officially recategorize marijuana as attorney general — and continually passed the buck to Congress when asked about the issue — Holder’s Justice Department did issue guidance, known as the Cole Memo, which generally allowed states to implement their own cannabis laws without federal interference.
Current Attorney General Jeff Sessions rescinded that memo earlier this year.
In the new interview, Holder said he thinks the federal government should continue letting states implement their own legalization laws.
“Let those be laboratories to see where we want to be,” he said. “I think if you allow the states to experiment we’ll ultimately come to a national consensus about what it is we ought to do with regard to marijuana.”
He also spoke about unfair enforcement of cannabis criminalization.
“One of the things that I am concerned about, though, is the racial disparity you see in the enforcement of marijuana laws,” he said. “You see African Americans, Latinos using marijuana at just about the same rates as whites, and yet seeing rates of arrest four, five times as great as it is for whites. That is something that I think is extremely troubling.”
Photo courtesy of US Embassy New Zealand.
Congressional Committee Protects Medical Marijuana From Jeff Sessions
A powerful congressional panel voted on Thursday to continue shielding medical marijuana patients and providers who comply with state laws from prosecution by the federal government.
While the provision has been federal law since 2014, when it was first attached to legislation that funds the U.S. Department of Justice, its continuance has been in question because of recent efforts by Republican leadership to prevent votes on cannabis amendments. But in a stunning bipartisan move, the House Appropriations Committee voted to add the provision as a rider to legislation funding U.S. Attorney General Jeff Session’s department for Fiscal Year 2019.
(Marijuana Moment’s editor provides some content to Forbes via a temporary exclusive publishing license arrangement.)
Congressional Republicans Block Votes On Hemp Amendments
In the latest development in a series of anti-cannabis moves, congressional Republican leadership has blocked consideration of several industrial hemp amendments.
Supporters were seeking to attach the measures to the large-scale Farm Bill, which sets food and agriculture policy for the country, but the House Rules Committee on Wednesday decided that the proposals cannot be considered on the floor.
The anti-cannabis chairman of the panel did, however, reveal that a broader deal for industrial hemp might be in the works.
One of the measures the committee killed, submitted by Reps. James Comer (R-KY) and Earl Blumenauer (D-OR), along with a bipartisan list of cosponsors, would have legalized hemp and made it eligible for crop insurance.
“Hemp is a crop with a long and rich history in our country,” Comer said in introducing his amendment before the committee. “It was grown by many of our founding fathers.”
Comer, who is a former Kentucky agriculture commissioner, said his state’s existing industrial hemp research program, which is authorized under a previous Farm Bill enacted in 2014, “has been a great success.”
He also spoke about the economic potential of the plant. “Times are tough in rural america,” he said. “For rural Kentuckians, industrial hemp has provided a new crop and business opportunity.”
But in a party-line move, the committee voted 8 to 3 to reject a motion to add Comer’s amendment to the list of proposals approved for floor consideration.
Another hemp amendment, filed by Reps. Thomas Massie (R-KY) and Jared Polis (D-CO), would have removed hemp from the list of federally banned substances.
A third proposal, submitted by Rep. Andy Barr (R-KY), sought to create “a safe harbor for financial institutions that provide services to hemp legitimate businesses” that operate under state-authorized research programs.
“There is a proud history in American and in Kentucky [for hemp] as an agriculture product,” Barr said when testifying for his amendment, noting that it can be used in over 25,000 products.
Under current law, banks that work with legitimate hemp companies “fear reprisal from federal regulators,” Barr said, arguing that his proposed measure would protect financial institutions “from unnecessary interference from bank examiners and regulators” and give producers rights that “every other American crop enjoys.”
The committee did not hold specific votes on those two measures.
Rules Committee Chairman Pete Sessions (R-TX) has made a consistent practice of blocking cannabis measures from advancing over the past several years.
Sessions, seemingly mistakenly, told Comer during the Wednesday hearing that the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) has “a clause…that industrial hemp should be declassified under their Schedule I drugs, which they concur, which is the position you hold, too.”
A hemp lobbyist told Marijuana Moment in an email that he had not heard of the DEA taking a pro-hemp position.
Polis, who as a Rules Committee member made the unsuccessful motion to let the full House vote on Comer’s amendment, argued that hemp is a “common sense area” that enjoys bipartisan support. The measure, he said, would simply “treat industrial hemp as the agricultural commodity that it is.”
While Sessions and other GOP panel members were not swayed, the chairman did hint just before the vote that there may still be hope for hemp reform, saying that the issue would be “determined by an agreement that would be reached” with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY).
McConnell last month filed a hemp legalization bill, which Comer’s amendment closely modeled. Fully a fifth of the Senate is now signed on as cosponsoring that legislation, and the majority leader has already announced plans to attach his hemp language to the version of the Farm Bill being considered by the Senate this month.
While it is unclear what exactly Sessions was suggesting when he referred to an “agreement” with McConnell, it may have been a reference to the conference committee process that will merge the House and Senate’s respective versions of the Farm Bill into a single proposal after each chamber passes its legislation. If McConnell succeeds in attaching hemp legalization to the Senate bill, it would then be up for consideration as part of the final legislation sent to President Trump for signing into law.
In 2014, McConnell successfully inserted a provision to prevent federal interference in hemp research programs in that year’s version of the Farm Bill.
Photo courtesy of Chris Wallis // Side Pocket Images.