OMCIA Announces Opposition to Senate Bill 9

The Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association (OMCIA) held a virtual press conference March 6, when industry professionals discussed Senate Bill 9 and their opposition to the legislation.

S.B. 9 would create a 13-member Medical Marijuana Oversight Commission to oversee the Division of Marijuana Control. The Division of Marijuana Control would fall under the Ohio Department of Commerce, Cannabis Business Times reported.

The legislation complements recommendations in Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine’s budget proposal for the 2024-25 fiscal year. The proposed budget recommends that the Department of Commerce exclusively manage the state’s medical cannabis program starting FY 2024. Currently, the Department of Commerce and the Board of Pharmacy split the responsibilities.

Matt Close, executive director of OMCIA, Daniel Kessler, co-owner and CEO of Riviera Creek, Peg Hollenback founder and managing partner of BeneLeaves, and Bryan Murray, executive vice president of government relations at Acreage Holdings, gathered for the hearing to discuss S.B. 9 and what they think needs to change in the legislation.

They argued that the legislation should solely focus on increasing patient accessibility and participation rather than expanding licenses and cultivation space. For example, the legislation would award “current operators 60+ additional dispensary licenses to the existing 130 dispensary licenses, cultivation licenses for specific independent processors, and processing licenses to level 2 cultivators,” according to a press release.

OMCIA members argued that the expansion is unnecessary and would create a “massive oversupply,” as cultivators can currently expand their footprint if the market allows, according to the release.

Close said that because Ohio’s patient base has been stagnant (averaging about 163,000 active patients since last summer), there is no reason to expand licenses and cultivation space. As of Feb. 21, there were 160,121 active patients, according to the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program.

“The last thing we need is more supply. Instead, legislation should focus on addressing our industry’s most significant challenge: excessive barriers to patient participation,” Close said.

“S.B. 9 punishes companies like mine that have invested hundreds of millions of development dollars into our state,” Kessler said. “Instead of reducing bureaucracy, this bill does the opposite by adding an additional level of oversight in the form of a commission of lifetime political appointees.

“Furthermore, the expansion measures in the bill would add immense supply to an already oversupplied market. Despite my company’s high quality product reputation, we currently have hundreds of pounds of product in our inventory that we cannot sell. Even at wholesale pricing, the demand is not there. If the bill passes in its current state, it is likely that the industry will crumble, and the only winner will be the illegal, illicit market.”

Hollenback also noted her opposition toward the license expansion, adding that the program needs greater patient access instead of additional supply and licenses.

The OMCIA made several recommendations to the bill that would increase patient accessibility and participation.

Regarding patient accessibility, the measure would also add new qualifying conditions and allow individuals to use medical cannabis for other conditions that physicians determine are debilitating to a patient, CBT reported.

The OMCIA recommends that anxiety, insomnia, and depression are added as qualifying conditions. The association also recommends reducing or eliminating the registration fee for a medical cannabis card, extending the patient recommendation to last three years, eliminating the state, local and county sales tax on medical cannabis purchases, incorporating employment protections for card holders, and prohibiting the sale of hemp-derived cannabinoids such as delta-8 THC, according to the release.

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