Pubdate: Sun, 9 Jun 2013
Source: News Herald (Willoughby, OH)
Copyright: 2013 The News-Herald
Author: Matthew Skrajner
Bookmark: (Marijuana - Medicinal - Ohio)


In the wake of Colorado and Washington legalizing the recreational 
use of marijuana, efforts to change the laws in Ohio are being 
debated statewide.

On May 2, Democratic state Rep. Robert F. Hagan of Youngstown 
introduced House Bill 153, which would allow for the use of marijuana 
for medicinal purposes. The bill did not make it very far through the 
state legislature, though.

Simon Dunkle, director of media relations for the Ohio Rights Group, 
said a hearing was not scheduled for the bill, and it died in the 
committee stage.

In the face of this setback for the medical marijuana cause, on May 
29 ORG launched the campaign for the Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment.

The group must get about 385,000 signatures from registered voters of 
at least 44 counties by July 3, 2014, to place the constitutional 
amendment on the November 2014 ballot. ORG hopes to gather 1 million 

"This really is - pardon the expression - a grassroots effort," Dunkle said.

In addition to permitting medicinal marijuana use for those 18 and 
older, the amendment would allow Ohioans to grow hemp for use in 
creating various products including paper, fuel, foods and clothing.

Dunkle claimed that hemp, a type of marijuana that does not have 
enough THC for people to use it as a drug, is about a billion dollar 
business in Canada; he wants to help bring that industry to Ohio farms.

"You can basically use the whole plant," he said. "What we want to be 
is sort of an example for the rest of the country."

Officer George "Pat" Willis, of the Lake County Narcotics Agency and 
supervisor of the P.L.U.S. Program, said the medicinal benefits of 
marijuana have been in use for decades, so smoking it for medicinal 
purposes is unnecessary.

A synthetic version of THC, a chemical in marijuana that can be used 
for medicinal purposes, has been a part of a drug called Marinol 
since the 1980s, Willis said.

The natural form found in marijuana is called "delta-9 THC," he said.

One of Willis' biggest issues with legalizing medical marijuana by 
way of a constitutional amendment is the long time that would be 
required to outlaw the drug if problems arose. Medication approved by 
the FDA can be pulled from the market the next day should any 
negative side effects or other issues come about. But if a 
constitutional amendment such as the Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment 
were passed, it would most likely take two to three years to bring 
another ballot initiative to voters to pull the medication from the 
market, Willis said.

He said other medications must reach multiple criteria to gain 
government approval.

"When you put the research out there for marijuana, it can't even 
reach one," Willis said.

To help regulate the proposed legal marijuana use, Dunkle said a 
commission would be created to decide which people and businesses 
would qualify.

Part of the nine-member commission would be appointed by a 
legislative committee and part by the governor.

Willis said marijuana use can lead to use of other, more dangerous 
drugs. While it will not appear on a drug test after about a month, 
delta-9 THC remains on the receptors in the brain for months. Over 
time, marijuana users often build up a tolerance to THC.

"When that happens, you move on to something else," he said.

Painesville Municipal Court Judge Michael Cicconetti - while not 
stating whether marijuana should be legalized - said he hopes any law 
that is passed goes further than just legalizing medical or industrial use.

"If they're going to introduce a bill, don't go the diluted way," he 
said. "It becomes more difficult for law enforcement to cite."

While possessing up to 100 grams is decriminalized in Ohio - 
basically making that level of possession equal in severity to a 
traffic citation - people charged with possession still have the 
right to fight it in court.

"It's very consuming both to prosecute and to judge," Cicconetti said.

The judge said those resources can be better spent elsewhere, 
specifically in fighting heroin abuse, which has seen a spike in 
recent years. Heroin is becoming as cheap as marijuana, but is far 
more dangerous.

"I don't ever remember having a crime of violence go along with only 
marijuana," Cicconetti said.

In his experience, treatment centers are having trouble helping 
people fight heroin addiction. People often return to court soon 
after leaving treatment centers - or worse, die from overdosing.

"I don't have the answers. All I have is frustrations," he said.
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