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Medical marijuana sales approaching $725 million since drug became legal in Ohio

The industry is eyeing expansion as it backs a proposal to legalize the recreational use of cannabis.

CLEVELAND — Since January 2019, Ohio has allowed residents with certain medical conditions to buy marijuana products such as cookies and gummies. These and other goods have generated nearly $725 million, according to latest sales figures compiled by the Ohio Department of Commerce Medical Marijuana Control Program.

A campaign is well underway to legalize the recreational use of marijuana, which would significantly increase sales in the state. It's backed by growers, cultivators, retailers, and other investors.

"Ohio's program has matured pretty quickly," said Kate Nelson, regional general manager for Acreage Holdings, which operates processing plants and retail stores in several states. "I'm very impressed at how much it's grown as far as patient access goes, recommending physicians and products available."

Nelson has been working on plants and products here since Ohio lawmakers legalized the medical use of marijuana in 2016, three years before sales of such products began. She is among the industry leaders backing the campaign to legalize the use of recreational cannabis.

The campaign collected enough voter signatures to force Ohio lawmakers to accept its plan or pass an amended version. If they don't within the next few months, the proposal could end up before voters in November.

"We continue to be hopeful that the legislature will act on what we think is an issue that’s popular among Ohio voters," said Tom Haren, a spokesman the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the campaign behind the legalization push. "From our standpoint, it's really about just recognizing the reality and about removing the criminal penalties for conduct that, you know, thousands of Ohioans are already engaging in."

Medical marijuana sales fell short of early initial projections, largely because of bureaucratic issues around setting up the industry and licensing it. But more recent sales figures show steady increases, which has growers and processors turning to machines for help in production.

"Automation is now coming into cannabis," Nelson explained as she showed off the latest technology inside the processing plant. "We're starting to see, for the first time, examples of large-scale automation."

You can read Ohio's medical marijuana sales figures below:

Though Ohio's Republican-led legislature passed the medical marijuana law in 2016, it doesn’t favor recreational use. A coalition led by the Center for Christian Virtue, substance abuse prevention advocates, and others has launched a campaign against legalization, arguing it will lead to wider drug use and to an increase in car accidents.

Haren said that's nonsense.

"You might remember all of the boogeymen that were supposed to show up six years ago," he said. "None of them have shown up, right? We've been able to effectively regulate, prevent diversion, prevent access by children. All of those things that proponents said we would be able to do, we've done, and so now we have a track record. We are building on an existing framework that is operating well and can easily be transitioned into the next step, along the same lines of 18 other states.”

In the coming weeks, 3News will take a look at the legal and social issues related to legalization and what's has been learned by other states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana.

Gov. Mike DeWine opposes the recreational use of marijuana, which would allow for "combustion" (i.e. smoking) of the drug. Under the medical legalization program, marijuana can only be used in other products – such as cookies and gummies – and its concentrate can be used in a vaporizer.

Democratic gubernatorial candidates Nan Whaley and John Cranley support legalization, and Cranley is promoting his own pot plan on the campaign trail that includes a 10% excise tax plus state and local taxes on sales. His plan mirrors the proposed bill, which can be read below.

"DeWine sees it as a crime," the former Cincinnati mayor Cranley said. "I see it as a business."

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