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OSU professor mulls minimum two-year moratorium on legal marijuana

Special to the Legal News

Published: March 14, 2019

Marijuana is now legal for medical use in Ohio, which joins 32 other states and the District of Columbia on the decriminalized track of the federally classified Schedule I drug.

Some remain skeptical about the change and seek to put the brakes on any further legalization until weed's potential risks and possible benefits can be better assessed and thoughtful regulation may be implemented.

Douglas Berman, the Ohio State University's Moritz College of Law professor who blogs about marijuana law, policy and reform, recently considered commentary by psychiatrist Mitchell Rosenthal published in The Hill that calls for a nationwide, two-year moratorium on pot legalization.

Berman characterized Rosenthal's premise as "somewhat sensible as a matter of public policy and ... somewhat clueless in light of modern legal realities."

One of those legal realities is the federal government's outright prohibition of legalization and commercialization of marijuana.

"That legal fact has not stopped 'marijuana legalization ... gaining momentum across the country' because prohibition cannot easily be enforced effectively against states interested in pursuing reforms," Berman wrote in his blog. "Perhaps this commentary means to suggest (and would be more reasonable to suggest) that all states considering legalization sit tight for two years to provide more time and 'opportunity to study the impact so far on health and social behavior in legalized states.'

"But legalization has been a reality in some form in California for more than two decades and in modern forms in Colorado and Washington for five years.'

Berman wrote that it's highly unlikely that the assessment Rosenthal seeks can be made by early 2021.

"Because it may take decades to reach 'definitive understanding of the effect pot has on everything from driving impairment to workplace performance and learning development in young people,' I am not sure just a two-year pause would be all that productive even if it were somehow legally achievable," he added.

Rosenthal's call for clarity and consistent guidelines for such a process, which presumably would include warning labels, dosage recommendations and information about possible side effects, interactions and potency levels.

"This commentary is not misguided in identifying a range of issues that states should consider with respect to public health and safety in the reform of marijuana prohibition, and especially in (indirectly) suggesting that the federal government play a more active and productive role as states continue to move forward with reforms," Berman wrote. "I think the Obama Administration was remiss when failing to set up a task force or study group on these critical health and safety issues when modern state marijuana reforms were heating up, and the Trump Administration also seems content to continue to ignore these issues all while Congress cannot itself move forward on any production reforms at the federal level."

Sales of legalized medical marijuana in Ohio through March 3 totaled $1,520,381. Dispensaries sold 201 pounds, according to the state's Medical Marijuana Control Program.

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