Ohio's Medicinal Marijuana Program Delayed Again; More News

Originally, the state's medicinal marijuana program was supposed to be fully operational by September. The date got pushed to this month, but now state officials say that won't happen either.

Hello Cincy. Phew! What a week. Welcome to your Friday news rundown, where we put all the major happenings of the week in one easy place for you to check out.

First and foremost, we have all the local election results coverage you need. If you’re still wondering who won, who lost and want some possible reasons why, click away and peruse our coverage here. Not to brag, but it is comprehensive.

What else is happening? Welp, we’ve got some more Cincinnati City Council drama, for one thing. After 22 local Democrats and other community leaders fired off an open letter asking Councilman Christopher Smitherman to apologize for calling some of his colleagues “evil” and making an alleged threat to one of them, a group of local Baptist ministers yesterday responded with their own letter defending Smitherman. The continued battle between Smitherman — who is running for mayor in 2021 — and five Democratic council members stems from text messages those five exchanged during the tumultuous ouster of then-City Manager Harry Black this spring. A lawsuit by conservative activists and Smitherman allies alleges the five Democrats broke open meetings laws with those texts. You can read more about the alleged “threat” Smitherman made to Councilman Greg Landsman in our story here and more about the letter defending him here.

• A crowd of protesters numbering a few hundred at its peak gathered yesterday evening in Piatt Park downtown to push President Donald Trump’s appointed Acting Attorney General Matthew Whitaker to recuse himself from the ongoing investigation into possible Trump ties to Russian meddling in the 2016 election. Whitaker last year wrote a column saying that investigation, conducted by special counsel Robert Mueller, had gone too far. Trump placed Whitaker in the temporary position after removing Attorney General Jeff Sessions from the role. Sessions recused himself from involvement in the Mueller probe, and he and Trump have had a rocky relationship since.

Cincinnati’s rally was one of a number of similar events around the country. The local event, which also included a brief march through downtown, was organized by Patricia Klingenberg. She decried Whitaker taking the attorney general role without confirmation from the U.S. Senate — something she and other critics say is likely unconstitutional. Among those attending the rally were former Cincinnati City Council member Phil Heimlich, a one-time Republican who has been vocally critical of Trump, and Hamilton County Clerk of Courts Aftab Pureval. Both gave brief remarks to the crowd decrying Trump’s move replacing Sessions with Whitaker before the march.

• Could a dangerous intersection in Northside get city attention to cut down on wrecks there? After multiple accidents at Florida and Chase, neighborhood residents want the city to take action to prevent future crashes. Cincinnati City Councilman Greg Landsman has asked Cincinnati Police and its engineers office to do an analysis on potential fixes to the problem. Landsman says the wrecks could be caused by infrastructure issues, speeding enforcement issues, or both. One solution he’s brought up as a potential to dangerous traffic situations across the city is speeding cameras, which he says might help better enforce traffic laws. Those would require an amendment to the city’s charter, however — something council would need to vote to put on the ballot and Cincinnati residents would need to vote to approve.

• In the aftermath of the departure of United Way of Greater Cincinnati CEO Michael Johnson and UWGC Board Chair Julia Poston, 14 prominent black leaders in the city have issued a letter asking Greater Cincinnati nonprofits to “embrace and empower” black leaders and to follow a five-point plan for increasing racial equity in the region. Those signing the letter include UWGC board member Sean Rugless, former State Sen. and African American Chamber of Commerce head Eric Kerney and others. Johnson, who came to UWGC just three months prior to his departure, alleged racially-tinged “threats” and a hostile work environment led to his exit. In an email to the UWGC board, he mentioned Poston specifically. She later resigned from the board, though she says she did so only to avoid detriment to UWGC’s mission. You can read more about the departures here, and more about the letter in response here.

• The launch of Ohio’s medicinal marijuana program won’t happen this month, state officials say, though it could come by the end of the year. That’s because none of the state’s five licensed labs charged with testing the drug are open yet. Two — one in Hocking Hills and another in Streetsboro — are tentatively scheduled for last inspections in the middle of next month, the Ohio Department of Commerce says. Meanwhile, the state’s grow sites are also still ramping up. The state’s program has already been delayed from its original September start date due to wrangling around the state’s licensing procedures and delays in building sites necessary for the program to start.

• After Issue 1 failed at the ballot box Tuesday, what’s next for efforts to change Ohio’s drug-sentencing laws? Lawmakers say they’re working on their own fixes — and a measure that would severely limit efforts to bring future ballot initiatives to amend Ohio’s constitution like Issue 1. Republican State Senate President Larry Obhof is working with Democratic Columbus City Attorney Zach Klein and Republican Franklin County Prosecutor Ron O’Brien on legislation that would, among other things, reduce most fourth and fifth degree felony drug possession charges to misdemeanors except those involving fentanyl or date rape drugs, encourage treatment over jail time, create a pathway to sentence reduction for drug offenders already in prison, expand opportunities to seal past convictions and eliminate most mandatory minimum sentences. Meanwhile, separate legislation Republicans are cooking in the State House could raise the number of signatures it takes to get a constitutional amendment on the ballot and the percentage of voters it would need to pass.

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