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Ohio Senate wants to tighten marijuana home grow rules, crack down on delta-8 THC

Senate Republicans want to keep Ohioans under 21 from purchasing delta-8 THC products and tighten the rules for adults who grow cannabis at home.

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Senate Bill 278, introduced this week, proposes long-discussed reforms to the recreational marijuana law approved by voters last November. Adults 21 and older have been allowed to consume and grow marijuana since December, and recreational sales could begin in the coming weeks as regulators finalize license applications for businesses.

Gov. Mike DeWine has repeatedly urged lawmakers to clarify rules for public marijuana use and crack down on delta-8, which is synthesized from cannabidiol in hemp. Delta-8 is legal under the federal 2018 Farm Bill and largely unregulated in Ohio. Because of that, consumers can easily find products at CBD stores, wellness shops and gas stations.

"This is not an upheaval of the will of the people," Sen. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, said. "This is just trying to make sure there’s clarity to it."

Under Senate Bill 278:

  • Only people 21 and older could buy "adult-use hemp products" containing at least 2.5 milligrams of THC per serving. That includes any kind of THC naturally or artificially derived from the cannabis plant.

  • Users could not smoke or vape marijuana in public places where tobacco smoking is already banned.

  • Ohioans who grow marijuana at home would be required to submit an affidavit to the Division of Cannabis Control pledging not to sell their crop to the public. Under the law approved by voters, home growers can transfer up to six plants to another adult as long as there's no payment or advertising.

  • The illegal cultivation of marijuana at home would be a misdemeanor for the first offense and could escalate to a felony charge.

  • Marijuana businesses could take advantage of tax deductions for the cost of doing business, such as insurance and rent.

  • Certain standalone processors licensed under the medical program would be eligible for an adult-use cultivation license.

  • Patients could use medical marijuana to treat any condition as long as it's recommended by their physician.

Cresco Labs grows its first marijuana crop for Ohio's new adult recreational use program in Yellow Springs.

Will Ohio Legislature change recreational marijuana law?

Schuring said lawmakers want to promote a free market that leads to more supply and lower costs for consumers. The medical marijuana program grappled with an oversupply of product, which operators blamed on red tape that sapped patient demand and drove them to Michigan instead.

Senate Republicans also plan to revamp where the tax money goes − with an emphasis on funding mental health services, drug treatment and law enforcement − but they have yet to propose formal changes. The adult-use program created a substance abuse and addiction fund that gets 25% of the revenue from the excise tax.

A spokesman for DeWine said the governor supports efforts to regulate delta-8 and ensure Ohioans can "be in public spaces without invasive marijuana smoke."

It's unclear whether lawmakers − particularly in the House − have an appetite to take up marijuana legislation. House leaders declined to pass a previous Senate proposal and argued some of DeWine's concerns could be addressed through administrative rulemaking. Rep. Jamie Callender, R-Concord, said last month that both chambers share a desire to tackle delta-8.

Cannabis growers and sellers are also frustrated with the lack of regulation around delta-8, especially when compared to the stringent rules for medical and recreational marijuana. But they also don't want to see the Legislature dramatically change the program approved by voters.

A spokesman for the Ohio Cannabis Coalition did not respond to a request for comment.

“Our products are not at all available to children. It’s a 21 and over market," Buckeye Relief CEO Andy Rayburn said in an interview last month. "That is tightly enforced when you enter a dispensary and overseen by the DCC. It's the complete opposite with intoxicating hemp products, which are freely available in hundreds – if not thousands – of gas stations, convenience stories and smoke shops throughout Ohio."

Haley BeMiller is a reporter for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio

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