A trend that has played out all too often in the industry hit the news again last Thursday, when Ohio opted to delay its progress toward legalizing medical marijuana. The process encountered a snag, in the form of a delayed announcement of MMJ licenses to dispensary applicants who are participating in a state program, which has been pushed back into June.
Dispensary applicants for Ohio’s statewide MMJ program number in the hundreds. Applicants and MMJ stocks in Ohio, alike, had looked forward to receiving news last week of whether or not they would receive a license.
According to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, the meeting scheduled to announce license recipients last Wednesday was canceled due to incomplete gathering of information. A board spokesman explained that the board was waiting for verification from background checks that dispensary locations will not be within 500 feet of churches and schools. As it turned out, at least four of the proposed sites failed to satisfy the requirement of a 500-foot buffer. Apparently, the Ohio Department of Commerce hadn’t verified that minimum requirements had been met by applicants prior to awarding licenses to growers, per a report by Cleveland.com.
Out of the 376 applicants, the pharmacy board may award up to 57 licenses statewide for MMJ dispensaries. Receiving a cultivator license is a critical step for MMJ growers to enter Ohio’s medical marijuana market. With the delay, the announcement of licenses will now take place starting June 4, during a three-day board meeting.
The MMJ Ohio delay comes as no surprise, the process has encountered hurdles all along its route to legality.
Ohio has invested two years of preparation into the launching of its medical cannabis program, which is set for September 8. The process, as is often the case, has been far from smooth sailing. Courtroom battles have ensued over the selection of cultivator licenses and flaws indicated in the process of selection by Ohio’s Auditor, prompting a few lawmakers to propose scrapping the plans and starting over. Ohio’s Auditor and some of the state’s Democrats, however, insist it’s too late in the game to start from scratch.
At the beginning of May, MMJ advocates received approval to begin collecting signatures in support of a constitutional amendment. If passed, the amendment would not only guarantee security of the MMJ program but also ensure marijuana were regulated like alcohol.
Does Ohio’s delay mean another setback for MMJ stocks?
The delay does present a roadblock in the process of legalization, a journey that has already been drawn out. Prior to Ohio’s proposed launch date on September 8, the state had invested two years in preparation of the program and its rollout. Along the way, legal battles and opponents have caused their own delays, as is so often the case for states in pursuit of legalization.
Historically speaking, the issue of legalizing marijuana has caused a deep divide among voters and politicians. However, a significant shift in public perception, as demonstrated across several national polls, suggests that more than half of U.S. citizens are now in favor of legalization. This shift, though promising for marijuana advocates and MMJ stocks, has not offered much in the way of expediting the process of legalizing marijuana in the U.S..
The good news for MMJ stocks in Ohio, and those wishing to invest in cannabis, is amidst state-level battles for legalization, the U.S. finds itself closer to legalizing marijuana than ever before.
A handful of prominent U.S. Senators, among which there may be presidential candidates in the next election, have emerged as proponents of the Marijuana Justice Act. Under the adoption of the proposed bill, marijuana would no longer be federally classified as a Schedule I drug. The logic behind this bill is reasonable to many, since cannabis and heroin are hardly equal and yet are viewed as such under the current federal classification.
Ohio’s delay in legalization, while not something Ohio’s medical marijuana stocks wish to see, should not affect cannabis stocks in the immediate. In the big picture, though, any delay and obstruction the industry encounters on the path to legalization only serves to further draw out the process. MMJ stocks may experience a slight postponement of their anticipated big payday, but it will come.
(For more news on state victories, read More States Set to Legalize: What Will That Do For Marijuana Stocks?)