Legal marijuana industry begins to grow in Ohio

Budding Ohio marijuana industry creating issues for businesses

In September, Ohioans will be allowed to buy, sell and inhale marijuana for medical purposes. Marijuana patients who have been registered through a physician’s recommendation will be able to purchase marijuana from dispensaries licensed in Ohio.

In September 2016, Ohio became the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana. A recent survey showed 90 percent support allowing adults in Ohio to legally use marijuana for medical purposes if a doctor prescribes it.

This does not mean, however, that employers must allow their employees to use marijuana. Employers will have the choice of allowing users to work for them or can choose to not to allow then to do so, even though its use will be legal.

“Companies need to understand what key decisions and actions that must be made before the law is fully operational,” according to Corri Miller, assistant professor of management at Tiffin University.

Federal contractors still must maintain a drug-free workplace and employers in safety-sensitive industries such as trucking cannot accommodate their employees who want to smoke. Laws vary from state to state where pot is legal. It still is illegal under federal law.

According to Jim Gucker, attorney and assistant professor of business law at Tiffin University, “Under federal law, marijuana is still a Schedule 1 controlled substance. As a result, employers are not required to accommodate an employee’s use of medical marijuana.”

Employers still will be allowed to do drug testing. Even if they hire medical marijuana users, they can prohibit them from being high on the job.

Until Congress changes federal law to re-classify marijuana as a legal substance, anyone who uses medical marijuana violates federal law, according to Gucker.

Ohio Democratic gubernatorial candidate Dennis Kucinich is campaigning to make marijuana legal for recreational purposes, as well. He believes it would be a boost to agriculture in the Buckeye State and could help the opioid crisis. Marijuana can be used as a way to manage pain and to help reduce the use of opioids.

The Cleveland School of Cannabis opened early this year in response to the new industry. The school’s website says it offers certificate programs leading to jobs in the growing industry. It is the only school of its kind east of Colorado.

The industry is expected to create a significant number of new jobs. Entry-level jobs in the greenhouse pay about $15 for maintaining plants. Master growers however can earn $100,000 or more a year, according to James Yagielo, CEO of HempStaff, the self-proclaimed leader in medical marijuana recruiting and dispensary training, according to its website.

Licensed growers of marijuana in Ohio applied for the opportunity to get into the business. The Ohio Department of Commerce awarded 24 provisional licenses last November. Half of the licenses were awarded to Level 1 or larger cultivators that can grow up to 25,000 square feet, and half to smaller growers who only can use 3,000 square feet to grow pot.

Standard Wellness in Gibsonburg was awarded one of the large cultivator licenses. It was chosen from a pool of 110 applicants for one of the 12 licenses.

“I’m proud to stand behind Standard Wellness and their mission. I’m proud of the fact that they now call Gibsonburg their home” stated Steve Fought, mayor of Gibsonburg, on the Standard Wellness website.

One of the issues Ohio needs to be wary of is over-taxation of the new crop. California legislators are considering lowering taxes on marijuana. Duties collected by the state of California have driven the price of legal pot so high that many users have resorted to buying it on the black market. Marijuana is legal for recreational use in California.

Perry Haan is professor of marketing and entrepreneurship at Tiffin University. He can be reached at (419) 618-2867.