Inside his Linden-area home, I ask Bob Bridges if he thinks he was removed from Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee for being vocal about his beliefs.
“Yes,” Bridges says. “Point blank, just yes.”
Bridges is a long-time marijuana activist in Ohio who’s previously helped write legalization bills, albeit none that have passed. On September 3, House Speaker Larry Householder removed Bridges from the state committee that advises the State Medical Board of Ohio, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy and the Ohio Department of Commerce on medical pot policy.
"I received an email just randomly out of the blue," Bridges says of his firing.
Each member of the 16-person committee speaks for a stakeholder in the medical marijuana program. Bridges was the patient advocate.
“A lot of my focus was on patient protections," Bridges says. "Like if a patient goes to the hospital and they have their medication on them, is their medication going to be taken away by law enforcement? That's happened here in Ohio.”
Bridges says he quickly “ruffled feathers” of other committee members and state policy makers, specifically when he questioned whether the new medical pot program would launch on time.
“They were leading the public to believe that they were going to be able to," he says. "I came out and said that it wasn’t going to happen, and they were forced to come out and say that it was.”
Bridges was right. The 2016 medical marijuana law gave the state a deadline of September 2018 to have the program up and running. But Ohio’s first pot dispensary wouldn’t open its doors until the following January. That followed a series of delays related to lawsuits and problems with cultivators, processors, dispensaries, and the statewide patient registry.
"I'd like to see it go a little quicker, be moving a lot faster," Bridges says. "We have too much government in the way of letting the free market of this new industry in Ohio work."
A year after that deadline, many areas of Ohio still are without medical marijuana dispensaries, product variety is limited, and prices are high. But Bridges still has hope.
"I'm looking forward to the day when we have all the dispensaries up and running, all the processors up and running, and see then what our market looks like here in Ohio," Bridges says.
Householder’s office responded to interview requests with an emailed statement.
“We believe constructive, collaborative engagement is important on any board," the statement read. "In this case, we believed it was time to go in another direction and we will be making another appointment in the near future.”
A spokeswoman for the House Speaker's Office did not respond to a follow-up email seeking specifics.
For the state's next patient advocate, Bridge has a word of advice: "Be very patient."
"Have patience," he continues, "because you're going up against a lot of people that still believe in the D.A.R.E. mentality that marijuana is bad."