Tuesday, May 24, 2016
Lobbyists, start your engines: revisions to Ohio medical marijuana bill creates array of regulators and rule-makers
As reported in this local article, headlined "Senators remove pharmacist requirement from medical marijuana bill," the Ohio General Assembly has done some additional notable tweaking of the medical marijuana legislation being fast-tracked in this state. Here are the latest details, along with my explanation for the Indy 500-inspired title to this post:
Senators vetting a medical marijuana bill eliminated a requirement that every marijuana dispensary be run by a licensed pharmacist, expanded the definition of pain to qualify for medical marijuana and other changes cheered by medical marijuana advocates.
The Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee added the pharmacist requirement last week as well as put the program under the oversight of the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy. The Ohio Pharmacists Association supported the change, but patient advocates said would increase patient costs and render Ohio's medical marijuana program ineffective.
The committee is expected to make small changes to the bill Wednesday morning before approving it for a full floor vote as early as Wednesday afternoon. The revised bill then would need approval from the House before heading to Gov. John Kasich's desk....
Three states require pharmacists in medical marijuana dispensaries: Connecticut, Minnesota and New York. Advocates have criticized those states for having overly restrictive programs. Sen. Dave Burke, a Marysville Republican and pharmacist, said the pharmacist requirement raised concerns about patient access, and the bill has other safeguards to ensure products are safely administered. "We're not wanting to be restrictive, we're not wanting to be burdensome but we don't want to expose people to harm," Burke said.
House Bill 523 would allow patients with about two dozen qualifying conditions to buy and use marijuana if recommended by a licensed Ohio physician. The Ohio Department of Commerce would write the rules and regulations for who could commercially grow or manufacture products from marijuana. Smoking and home growing are not allowed in the bill. Patients would have an affirmative defense from arrest and prosecution to possess and use marijuana before dispensaries are up and running.
Patients would have to have a doctor's recommendation and the marijuana would have to be legal under the Ohio law. Burke said the pharmacy board will also draft rules allowing patients from states with similar requirements to access Ohio medical marijuana. "It has to fit in the framework -- you can't just bring your baggie of Colorado weed to Ohio," Burke said....
Lawmakers supporting the bill are motivated in part by a constitutional amendment planned for the November ballot. Ohioans for Medical Marijuana spokesman Aaron Marshall said the revised bill still does not address patient concerns and is inferior to his group's proposed measure. The amendment allows patients to smoke marijuana and grow their own or enlist a caregiver to grow for them. Marijuana won't be covered by medical insurance plans, Marshall said, so home grow is the best way to ensure poor Ohioans will have access to the plant.
Changes made Tuesday morning:
- Chronic and severe pain is one qualifying condition and intractable pain is a separate condition.
- The pharmacy board would license retail dispensaries, register patients and regulate marijuana packaging and acceptable paraphernalia.
- The Department of Commerce would license cultivators, processors and testing labs and operate a seed-to-sale tracking system. Cultivator licensing rules would have to be written within 240 days of the bill's effective date instead of 180 days.
- The state medical board would certify physicians for the program.
The title of this post is my basic reaction to the reality that, in this latest version of Ohio's medical marijuana bill, there will be at least three enduring regulatory bodies in charge of various parts the state's marijuana programming: the Department of Commerce, the board of pharmacy, and the state medical board. In addition, the bill also creates for, a five-year period, a multi-member "medical marijuana advisory committee" which "may develop and submit to the department of commerce, state board of pharmacy, and the state medical board any recommendations related to the medical marijuana control program." So, any patient or parent or doctor or caregiver or cultivator or processor or lab or any other business or person wanting to influence Ohio's regulatory structures for medical marijuana will want/need to consider lobbying various regulatory bodies and the medical marijuana advisory committee.
And, of course, because all these structures are being created through standard state legislation, the many diverse regulatory bodies are not the only ones to be lobbied. I would expect in the years ahead, both pro- and anti-marijuana advocates and their lobbyists will sometimes go over the heads of the assigned regulators to try to get the General Assembly through future legislation to place new/changed marijuana rules directly into Ohio's Revised Code.
Long story short: though I am not yet sure that the regulatory structure being created now in Ohio will facilitate a robust medical marijuana industry, I am sure that there is likely going to have to be a robust medical marijuana lobby industry in the Buckeye State at least for the next few years.