Friday, April 15, 2016
As noted in this prior post, Ohio legislators have now gone from generally talking about marijuana reform to having a specific bill that it plans to move to consider quickly. This new local article, headlined "Ohio medical marijuana hearings begin Tuesday," provides an overview of the bill and the big debate it is sure to engender in the state in the coming weeks:
State lawmakers will begin hearings on a new medical marijuana bill on Tuesday. The House Select Committee on Medical Marijuana plans to meet three times a week to vet and revise House Bill 523. The bill would establish a program allowing patients to buy and use marijuana to treat medical conditions with the recommendation of a licensed Ohio physician.
Rep. Kirk Schuring, a Canton Republican who led the House medicinal marijuana task force, will also chair the committee. Lawmakers hope to have the bill to Gov. John Kasich by June....
People will not be allowed to grow marijuana at home. Dispensaries and growing, testing, and processing facilities could not be located within 500 feet of a school, church, public library, public playground or public park.
Marijuana would be tracked from seed to sale, with patient and physician information entered into a database similar to other controlled substances.
Only Ohio-licensed doctors who have registered with the state to recommend marijuana could do so, and only after examining the patient and his or her medical history. Doctor recommendations would specify an amount and type of marijuana to patients. The doctor's recommendation would expire after 90 days, and patients would have to visit their doctors to renew the recommendations.
Businesses could still enforce drug-free workplace policies, and financial institutions that serve marijuana businesses would not face state penalties. Lawmakers would later determine an appropriate tax on medical marijuana. Marijuana businesses would have to pay all other business taxes. The program must be operational no later than two years after the bill becomes law.
The bill leaves many of the regulations up to a nine-member commission appointed by the governor, House, and Senate....
Meanwhile, two groups are collecting signatures to legalize medical marijuana at the ballot box. Don Wirtshafter, of Grassroots Ohioans, called the bill a "timid first step." Grassroots Ohioans' amendment would allow people to use marijuana to treat medical conditions, but would not require a physician's recommendation or prescription. The amendment would allow farmers to grow industrial hemp. "Our initiative is necessary because it will force the legislature to look at this more realistically in view of the modern science on this subject," Wirtshafter said Thursday.
Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, backed by national group Marijuana Policy Project, is proposing a regulated system in its constitutional amendment. Mason Tvert, spokesman for Marijuana Policy Project, said the House bill's reporting requirements would have a chilling effect on physicians and help few patients. "That's not something we require of physicians for many other medications and medical marijuana is objectively far less harmful and has far less potential for abuse than prescription drugs," Tvert said.
The full text of HB523 is available at this link, and at the very, very end of the document is a paragraph that is of special importance to me given my robust research interests in this topic:
The General Assembly hereby declares that it intends to establish a program to provide incentives or otherwise encourage institutions of higher education and medical facilities within this state to conduct academic and medical research regarding medical marijuana.
But as the title of this post is meant to signal, I am not sure if this provision shoud be my least or most favorite part of the bill. When I testified before the Ohio House Medical Marijuana Task Force last month, I noted that the Buckeye State is ideally positioned to emerge as a national and international leader in cannabis research, and I urged the General Assembly to create a dedicated Center for Ohio Cannabis Research (which I called "OhioCan Research"). I like this final paragraph of HB523 because it declares the General Assembly's intent establish a program to support medical marijuana research. But I dislike this paragraph because it does not do more than declare a legislative intent.
Specifically, I noticed that HB523 not only creates a "medical marijuana control commission" (MMCC), but also tasks the MMCC with figuring out each year how much of the tax/fee revenues raised by the medical marijuana program should be allocated each year to "marijuana drug abuse prevention programs." I think that provision of the bill should be expanding to also task the MMCC with figuring out how much of the revenue raised should also be allocated each years to "academic and medical research regarding medical marijuana."