Why Ohio may have to break the law to launch its medical pot program

Growers can’t legally import the seeds, so ‘immaculate conception’ is needed to grow first crop, expert says.

When Ohio officials award licenses next month allowing two dozen companies to cultivate medical marijuana, the growers will have almost a year to build facilities and produce their first crop.

But where will they get the seeds?

It will still be illegal to purchase marijuana plants from anyone but themselves.

MAP: Where medical marijuana could be grown in Ohio

Many of the applicants have cannabis-growing operations in other states, but it’s still illegal under federal law to bring marijuana across state lines.

The Ohio Department of Commerce, which regulates medical marijuana growers, doesn’t have an answer.

“That is a matter to be determined by the cultivator. The state does not have this information,” said commerce spokeswoman Kerry Francis in a July interview.

This media outlet has called several applicants. So far, none have been willing to say how or where they’ll get seeds for their virgin crop.

RELATED: Multi-state companies major players in Ohio’s budding medical pot trade

Alan Brochstein, an industry expert who founded the financial site New Cannabis Ventures, said it’s a phenomenon referred to in the industry as “immaculate conception.”

“The states typically will look the other way and let the starting material arrive,” he said, venturing a guess that they come from a mixture of the black market within the state and from other states, “either one of which would be a (legal) problem.”

April Hutcheson, spokeswoman for the Pennsylvania Department of Health, which is rolling out that state’s medical marijuana program, said the federal pot ban was not enforced during the Obama administration for actions done within state laws.

And, she said, “We haven’t received any notice from the federal government they’re changing their policy.”

RELATED: Ohio’s medical marijuana: What’s really going on?

But a 2014 memo that outlined the U.S. Department of Justice’s enforcement priorities listed among its continued goals: “Preventing the diversion of marijuana from states where it is legal under state law in some form to other states.”

Current U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions also is a staunch opponent of legalizing marijuana, and has sought increased power to enforce the federal ban.

The Justice Department did not respond to calls and emails seeking comment on the department’s position on Ohio’s medical marijuana program.

Officials with the Ohio Attorney General’s Office said they have not been involved in discussions on how or whether to deal with companies bringing in a starter crop.

RELATED: Lawsuits likely when state picks pot sites: “Losers don’t like losing”

In Minnesota, a county prosecutor earlier this year charged former executives of a medical cannabis company with illegally transporting $500,000 of marijuana-based oil across state lines.

According to the charges, the former chief medical officer and security officer of Vireo Health drove the company’s armored vehicle from its legal facility in Minnesota to its legal facility in New York. The shipment allegedly arrived in the month before the January 2016 New York state deadline for launching its medical marijuana program.


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