Thursday, May 26, 2016
As reported in this local article, "Ohio is poised to become the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana after state lawmakers approved a fast-moving bill Wednesday evening in a close vote." Here are more of the details and the enduring issues about marijuana reform still in play in the Buckeye State:
As I explained in this prior post, I think the final complicated structure for medical marijuana reform enacted by the Ohio legislature may prove to have even more benefits for lawyers and lobbyists than for prospective patients. But I suppose time will tell on this front, and how MPP (and advocates and polls) respond to bill may ultimately script the future of marijuana reform in the state more than the particulars of this legislation.
The bill cleared the Ohio Senate on Wednesday in a bipartisan 18-15 vote. The House later agreed to the changes, sending the bill to Gov. John Kasich. Kasich has said he would support a medical marijuana bill if doctors led on the issue.
The vote caps a historic debate at the Statehouse about medical marijuana, a subject the conservative legislature has been reluctant to take up for years. But last year's failed recreational marijuana measure, sky-high support for medical marijuana in public opinion polls and the prospect of another ballot initiative nudged lawmakers to act....
People with one of about two dozen qualifying medical conditions could use marijuana if recommended by their physician. Patients could not smoke or grow their own marijuana, but vaping would be allowed.
Oils, tinctures, patches and plant material would be sold in dispensaries licensed by the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy. The Department of Commerce would write rules for licensing cultivators, processors and testing labs. The State Medical Board would register physicians and determine education requirements for those physicians. A bipartisan 13-member Medical Marijuana Advisory Board would recommend rules to the three regulatory agencies.
The program would have to be up and running within two years. Patients and caregivers would have an "affirmative defense" from arrest or prosecution if caught with marijuana before it's legally sold in Ohio, as long as use was recommended by a physician and meets the criteria established for the program.
Medical marijuana patients could be fired for violating an employer's drug-free workplace policy, as they are in other medical marijuana states. Patients would then be ineligible for unemployment benefits.
Sen. Kenny Yuko, a Richmond Heights Democrat and long-time medical marijuana supporter, shared the stories of several Ohioans who told lawmakers they or their children would benefit from marijuana. Marijuana has been proven to reduce seizures, pain and, Yuko said while showing pictures of would-be patients. "This bill is not perfect, folks, but it's what Ohio patients need," Yuko said. "If we can give one veteran comfort, if we can ease one patient's horrible pain, if we can prevent one heroin overdose or save one child's life -- this bill will be worth it."
Senators differed in their reasons for voting no. Some opposed marijuana use or said the federal Food and Drug Administration should approve marijuana for medicinal use. Sen. Jay Hottinger, a Newark Republican, said law enforcement and anti-drug activists in his district urged him to oppose the bill. "What we have before us today is not simply a child suffering seizure from epilepsy but something much greater than that," Hottinger said.
Others disagreed with language that allowed patients to be fired for their marijuana use and unable to collect unemployment compensation. Sen. Sandra Williams, a Cleveland Democrat, voted against the bill because she thought the issue should be decided by voters in November.
Nicole Scholten, a Cincinnati mom whose daughter suffers from seizures and cerebral palsy, was among the dozens of medical marijuana supporters watching the Senate vote Wednesday night. Scholten, who has been trying to convince lawmakers to act for years, said she felt conflicted about the vote. "We are on the way to being a state that supports patients that are not being helped by FDA-approved medications," Scholten said.
The bill would cover her daughter, Scholten said, but there are several conditions the bill doesn't cover. And she said nurse practitioners and other medical professions who prescribe controlled substances should also be allowed to recommend medical marijuana, as they are in the proposed ballot measure.
Meanwhile, Ohioans for Medical Marijuana plans to continue collecting the 305,591 signatures of Ohio voters needed by July 6 to put its medical marijuana measure on the November ballot. The group is backed by national organization Marijuana Policy Project. Their proposed constitutional amendment would allow smoking in private areas and home grow and includes more qualifying medical conditions including severe nausea and autism.
Campaign spokesman Aaron Marshall said House Bill 523 is a step forward but still too restrictive. "Our Constitutional amendment builds on the legislature's work by incorporating national best practices and offers voters an opportunity to enact a law free of the horse-trading inherent in the legislative process," Marshall said.
After the bill is sent to Kasich, he has 10 days to sign it. If he doesn't sign, it automatically becomes law. The law is effective 90 days after Kasich signs, likely sometime in early September.