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.
Hemp Farmers Guaranteed Federal Crop Insurance Through Disaster Bill Amendment
The Senate approved a bill on Thursday that is mostly focused on providing relief aid to areas impacted by natural disasters—but it also includes a provision ensuring that hemp farmers qualify for federal crop insurance.
The hemp section was inserted into the legislation at the behest of Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY). Though similar language already exists in the 2018 Farm Bill, which federally legalized hemp and its derivatives, the senator took an added measure to provide clarity to farmers who want access to the insurance option ahead of the 2020 planting season.
“Beginning not later than the 2020 reinsurance year, the Federal Crop Insurance Corporation shall offer coverage under the wholefarm revenue protection insurance policy (or a successor policy or plan of insurance) for hemp (as defined in section 297A of the Agricultural Marketing Act of 1946 (7 U.S.C. 1639o)),” text of the provision states.
“Provided, That such amount is designated by the Congress as being for an emergency requirement pursuant to section 251(b)(2)(A)(i) of the Balanced Budget and Emergency Deficit Control Act of 1985,” it continues.
The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 85 to 8. The House is expected to approve the disaster legislation by unanimous consent by the end of the week, and President Donald Trump has offered assurances that he will sign it into law.
The legalization of hemp has sparked strong interest among farmers in states from Colorado to Kentucky, but it will still be some time until the U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) develops and implements its federal regulatory guidelines.
Agriculture Secretary Sonny Perdue said that while his department would not rush its rulemaking process, it still intends to implement the regulations before the 2020 planting season. After that point, USDA would be able to approve regulatory plans submitted by individual states.
McConnell, who championed the hemp legalization provision, has urged the quick and effective implementation of such regulations, and he’s suggested that he’d introduce standalone legislation to resolve any “glitches” in its rollout.
While not a standalone bill, the hemp-focused provision of the disaster legislation seems to indicate he plans to make good on that promise.
The senator has made much of his pro-hemp agenda, arguing last month that his role in reforming hemp laws is at “the top of the list” of reasons why voters should reelect him in 2020. He also cited hemp as an agricultural alternative to tobacco when he introduced a bill this week to raise the minimum age requirement to purchase tobacco products from 18 to 21.
Congressional Report Urges DEA Action On Marijuana Cultivation Applications
A congressional committee report attached a large-scale spending bill containing marijuana-related protections has been amended to include a call for the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) to finally act on long-pending applications for federal licenses to grow cannabis for research purposes.
The legislation itself, which was released by a House subcommittee last week, could still be further amended as it goes through the legislative process. But as approved by the full House Appropriations Committee on Wednesday, the bill stipulates that none of the Fiscal Year 2020 funds it allocates may be used by the Justice Department to interfere in state-legal medical marijuana programs.
The provision has been federal law since 2014, but its inclusion in the initial subcommittee proposal as introduced is the earliest it has ever surfaced in the legislative process for the annual spending bill. While advocates hoped broader protections for adult-use cannabis states would also be included in the base legislation, that rider isn’t in the bill—at least not yet.
There was also a technical problem with the legislation that wasn’t resolved by the committee manager’s amendment, the text of which has not been posted but was obtained by Marijuana Moment. The medical cannabis provision lists the states and territories its protections apply to—but it left out the U.S. Virgin Islands, which legalized medical marijuana in January.
Similar errors have occurred in past versions of the legislation, when legal medical cannabis states North Dakota and Indiana were not included in an earlier version of the rider, and advocates hope that the language will be amended on the House floor.
But while that fix didn’t make it into the bill at the committee level, the directive to the DEA about cannabis cultivation licenses was added to the committee report attached to the bill via the manager’s amendment.
“The Committee urges the Drug Enforcement Administration to expeditiously process any pending applications for authorization to produce marijuana exclusively for us in medical research,” the revised report states.
The DEA has faced significant pressure from lawmakers, advocates and scientists to approve applications for additional marijuana manufacturers to produce research-grade cannabis. Currently there is only one federally authorized facility, and the quality of its product has long been criticized.
DEA announced a process to license additional cultivators during the final months of the Obama administration in 2016, but the Justice Department under then-Attorney General Jeff Sessions refused to act on more than two dozen pending applications. Current Attorney General William Barr has pledged to look into the matter, and has said he agrees that approving additional manufacturers is necessary.
Advocates hope that the new committee report language could help to finally spur movement at the department.
“The DEA is a disaster on marijuana and they need to stop obstructing research ASAP,” Michael Collins, director of national affairs for the Drug Policy Alliance, told Marijuana Moment.
“It’s beyond ridiculous that they won’t act on these applications. Even prohibitionists like Project SAM agree,” he added, referring to the anti-legalization group Smart Approaches to Marijuana. “And when the guys who get their drug policy from the 1920s say you’re behind the times, that’s pretty embarrassing.”
Justin Strekal, political director for NORML, said that Sessions “was the only government official opposed to cannabis research, and he is no longer employed.”
“Now is the time for AG Barr to follow through on his commitment and allow researchers pathways to consumer-grade cannabis,” he said.
Another provision included in the appropriations bill would offer protections for states that have implemented industrial hemp pilot programs under the 2014 Farm Bill. The Justice Department wouldn’t be allowed to use its funds to interfere in such programs under the proposal.
Of course, the 2018 version of the agriculture legislation removed hemp and its derivatives from the Controlled Substances Act, shifting regulatory responsibility onto the U.S. Department of Agriculture instead of the Justice Department, so that provision may not be especially relevant going forward.
The bill will next head to the Rules Committee, which will decide the list of amendments—potentially including additional cannabis-related ones—that can be considered on the House floor.
Read the text of the manager’s amendment with the DEA marijuana language below:
Managers Amendment FINAL by on Scribd
Photo courtesy of Mike Latimer.
House Committee Approves Immigration Bill With Marijuana Protections
A congressional committee voted in favor of a wide-ranging immigration bill on Wednesday, and the legislation includes marijuana-related protections for people who were brought to the U.S. as children.
Under the DREAM Act as approved, having low-level cannabis convictions, or engaging in state-legal cannabis-related activities such as working in the regulated marijuana industry, would not be counted against applications for permanent resident status for so-called Dreamers.
The House Judiciary Committee advanced the bill in a 19-10 vote, without specific discussion about the cannabis provisions.
The section concerning eligibility for permanent status stipules that having three or more misdemeanor convictions could be grounds for ineligibility—but the bill creates an exemption for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”
The text seems to indicate that immigrants who engaged in cannabis-related activities prior to a state reforming its marijuana laws would still be protected even if that activity was not state-legal at the time.
Similar language appears under a separate section about grounds for a provisional denial of an application for adjustment of status. Applicants would be exempted from such a denial if their conviction was for “simple possession of cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia” or “any offense involving cannabis or cannabis-related paraphernalia which is no longer prosecutable in the State in which the conviction was entered.”
A previous version of the legislation, filed in March, didn’t include the specific eligibility requirements related to certain criminal activity, nor did it contain any explicit marijuana protections. It’s possible that House Democrats thought up the exemptions during a brainstorming session earlier this month about potential bill revisions aimed at building more support.
The next likely stop for the DREAM Act will be the House Rules Committee before heading to a full floor vote.
There’s been growing interest in reforming marijuana policies as they apply to immigrants and visitors to the U.S.
Earlier this month, four congressional Democrats sent a letter to the head of the Justice Department and Department of Homeland Security to end the practice of rejecting naturalization applications solely because the applicant worked in a state-legal marijuana market. That came after the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) released a memo specifying that such activity could render them morally unfit for citizenship.
And last week, Rep. Earl Blumenauer (D-OR) introduced legislation aimed at resolving marijuana-related border issues, whereby visitors who admit to using cannabis or working in their country’s legal industry can be denied entrance.
Photo courtesy of Philip Steffan.