Pubdate: Thu, 05 Nov 2015
Source: Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Copyright: 2015 The Columbus Dispatch
Authors: Jim Siegel and Alan Johnson


After years of resistance, Republican legislative leaders now are 
heading down the path toward legalizing marijuana for medical purposes.

At the same time, ResponsibleOhio marijuana investor Dr. Suresh Gupta 
said on Wednesday that the marijuana campaign that stumbled badly on 
Tuesday will be back, possibly next year, with a plan that doesn't 
involve a monopoly. "Absolutely. We're not here to run away," said 
Gupta, a Dayton anesthesiologist and pain-management physician who 
owns a proposed pot-growing site in Pataskala.

Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, said the legislative plan 
is to engage the medical community, possibly including state funding 
for studies, and release a series of bills and resolutions in the 
coming weeks, with potential action next year. They will include a 
pilot program and urging Congress to drop marijuana to a lower drug 

"We don't want to just wave a wand and make it happen," he said. "I 
think it's appropriate that we do it in a measured way ... and hear 
from those who are making things happen."

Despite the crushing defeat of Issue 3, a proposal to legalize 
medicinal and recreational marijuana and limit the number of retail 
growers, polls have shown significant support in Ohio for legalized 
medical marijuana.

Rosenberger said he wants to support ongoing clinical trials and 
potentially fund additional research that leads to a pilot program 
and perhaps full legalization of medical marijuana statewide. He 
mentioned Nationwide Children's Hospital, where 50 pediatric patients 
with epilepsy are participating in an international clinical trial of 
Epidiolex, a drug with a marijuana component.

"We need to have clinical studies that either augment the ones that 
are already in place or establish new ones that will look at the 
efficacy of medicinal marijuana," said Rep. Kirk Schuring, a veteran 
Republican from Canton who is taking the lead on the issue for the House.

The lack of quality clinical research is a key reason why the Ohio 
State Medical Association remains opposed to medical marijuana.

"We just don't think there's enough science behind it to support the 
medicinal use of marijuana for any particular ailment at this time," 
said association spokesman Reginald Fields. "We're not opposed to 
seeing some additional research."

The idea of medical marijuana is hardly a new one around the 
Statehouse, having been introduced on multiple occasions over the 
years. House Bill 33, a bipartisan medical-marijuana bill, was 
introduced in February but has not had a hearing.

But lawmakers know how to read polls. They also have seen wealthy 
investors repeatedly push an issue until successful - most recently 
casino operators.

Senate Republicans also have been looking into medical marijuana, and 
Senate Democrats are calling for a "collaborative effort."

"I'm concerned that any proposal has tight provisions to meet the 
medical necessity and to avoid abuse," said Senate President Keith 
Faber, R-Celina.

House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn, D-Dayton, said the fear of 
marijuana as medicine is "strange," and that Ohio is behind the curve 
as 23 states already have approved it.

Strahorn said he has talked to people in pain who have had to take 
illegal steps to get marijuana. "That is a terrible place to leave people."

Gupta said he and the other ResponsibleOhio financial backers talked 
on Wednesday morning, and none is dropping out.

"We were very, very disappointed," Gupta said. "It was a clear 
failure. The young people just did not go out to vote."

He faulted how the issue was structured.

Gupta said ResponsibleOhio now must work with state lawmakers and 
might propose both recreational and medical marijuana issues next 
year. Rosenberger said he opposes recreational legalization.

At the same time, two other marijuana campaigns have been approved to 
collect signatures: the Cannabis Control Amendment and the Legalize 
Marijuana and Hemp Amendment.

Sri Kavuru, president of Ohioans to End Prohibition, the organization 
backing the marijuana and hemp amendment, said he doesn't think Issue 
3 poisoned the well for marijuana legalization. "We believe the 
people of Ohio rejected a monopoly on marijuana, but it was in no way 
a referendum on legalization itself."

Kavuru's amendment would allow any adult or business to grow 
marijuana, limit possession to 100 grams, eliminate misdemeanor 
charges for possession and authorize the Ohio Department of 
Agriculture to oversee growth of hemp as a crop and industrial product.

He said he expects the issue to be on the ballot next year.

Meanwhile, entrepreneurs from the state of Washington, where pot is 
legal, announced plans for a "chain of retail marijuana stores in 
Ohio" - despite the Issue 3 defeat. Alex Mayer, an Ohio native and 
consultant for the company, Sohigho, said stores are planned in 
Athens, Fairfield and Franklin counties by 2017, anticipating that 
marijuana will be legalized in 2016.

"This election changed the conversation about marijuana, and the end 
of prohibition in Ohio is inevitable," he said.

GOP lawmakers and Gov. John Kasich have been concerned about taking 
any steps that could add to Ohio's growing drug-abuse problems that 
focus largely on prescription drugs and heroin. Kasich remains leery 
of any proposal to legalize marijuana, as some have told him that 
there are alternative medications that also can work effectively.

"The governor is sensitive to the plight of those who have 
debilitating diseases but feels the need to let medical professional 
lead on this issue," spokesman Joe Andrews said. "He hopes that 
through additional clinical research we can determine if medicinal 
cannabis can produce treatments that help patients who cannot find 
relief with other medications."

A medical-marijuana plan is unlikely to draw opposition that 
resembled the pile-on against Issue 3, which was defeated by 64 
percent of voters and lost in every Ohio county.

The Ohio Chamber of Commerce opposed Issue 3, concerned about the 
impact on workplace conditions. But Chamber President Andrew Doehrel 
said that as the board discussed Issue 3, some members indicated 
openness to looking at medical marijuana.

"They want to see if there's strong scientific evidence that it's 
good," Doehrel said. "But, at the same time, we're still going to 
worry about how it's going to work in the workplace. If you're going 
to put the employer in the place of not being able to regulate his 
own workplace, we'll still have concerns."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom