The Fresh Start Act was an ambitious effort to expunge old marijuana-related convictions in Ohio. The proposal (PDF warning) would take convictions for actions that are no longer considered illegal and expunged them from people's records. Support for it came mainly from the group ResponsibleOhio, which was behind last November's initiative to legalize marijuana. However, this was not enough, and the bill was pulled from consideration by state lawmakers.
This does not mean the end for efforts to reform marijuana laws, however. Leaders from the Ohio House of Representatives announced a plan to create the Medical Marijuana Task Force, an organization which will review Ohio's laws in relation to potential legalization of medical marijuana. The announcement was made by Speaker of the Ohio House Clifford A. Rosenberger and State Representative Kirk Schuring.
The Representatives both stated that this change came in response to citizen interest in the topic. Furthermore, the inclusion in last November's election of Issue 3, the law that would have legalized marijuana in Ohio, made it clear to politicians that some reform was necessary. In a press conference making these announcements, Rep. Schuring was announced as chair of the Task Force.
"Our goal with this task force is to invite everyone to the table and to have a real discussion about what's best for Ohio when it comes to medical marijuana," Rep. Schuring said. "I applaud Speaker Rosenberger for his leadership on this issue, and I look forward to chairing the task force and facilitating a creditable process."
Speaker Rosenberger also commented, stating "This issue is something that has been discussed for some time, on both sides of the aisle, and last November, the people of Ohio resoundingly defeated a ballot proposal that would allow the recreational use of marijuana. However, the initiative sparked debate about whether or not medical marijuana should be prohibited for those who are suffering from a specific illness. The goal of this task force is to have a methodical and holistic approach to the conversation, which means including members on both sides of the aisle, as well as medical experts, community advocacy groups and law enforcement officials. Having this discussions is important for our state and I think this task force gives us an idea setting to do that."
The task force, which will hold hearings through the next few months, involves a large number of different organizations. These include Rep. Steve Huffman, who is also a physician; Rep. Dan Ramos; Dr. Brian Santin, Ohio State Medical Association; Nick Lashutka, President of the Ohio Children's Hospital Association; Betty Montgomery, former Ohio Attorney General; Chris Stock, advocate for medical marijuana; Jimmy Gould, issue advocate; Bill Sopko, Chair of the Ohio Manufacturers' Association; Lora Miller, Ohio Council of Retail Merchants; Linda Hondros, Ohio Chamber of Commerce; Matt Szollosi, Affiliated Construction Trades (ACT OHIO); Larry Moliterno, Ohio Alliance of Recovery Providers; Gary Wolske, Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio (FOP); and Matt Lutz, Muskingum County Sheriff and third vice president of the Buckeye State Sheriffs' Association.
Jimmy Gould's inclusion will make sure ResponsibleOhio's position of legalization will continue to be heard. Gould told reporters that he would "do everything on this task force to make that happen. I'm also going to listen. I'm going to try to figure out what are the best ways for us to proceed. And that's why I agreed to join." However, he did also state that ResponsibleOhio was ceasing operations.
Rep. Rosenberger also ensured that the public could be confident something would come from the Task Force. "This is not a task force that we're establishing to be a stall tactic," he said. He continued, setting a deadline of late March or early April to submit a proposal. Rep. Schuring, the head of the Task Force, didn't rule out full legalization. "It's too early to say what that might be and if that will happen."
Hope for people that want to expunge records, including those listed in the Fresh Start Act, still remain hopeful that at least those records – if not others – would be expunged by whatever comes out of the Task Force. Furthermore, while the House works on their plan, the Senate was looking at its own proposal, with a bipartisan group planning to hold a number of town-hall style meetings around Ohio in order to obtain more information from Ohioans regarding their thoughts on the subject of not just expunging old pot charges, but how far Ohio should go in terms of implementing medical marijuana rules, decriminalization, or even legalization.