Pubdate: Tue, 12 Jan 2016
Source: Dayton Daily News (OH)
Copyright: 2016 Dayton Daily News
Author: Jim Provance, The (Toledo) Blade


Hearings Across the State to Gauge Ohioans' Feelings.

COLUMBUS - Ohio voters convincingly rejected the 
marijuana-legalization proposal on November's ballot, but state 
lawmakers will explore the possibility of allowing the use of pot for 
medical purposes only.

Multiple polls have shown strong support for the concept of medical 
marijuana. The Ohio Senate and House will announce as early as this 
week a series of bipartisan hearings across the state to gauge 
Ohioans' feelings on what that system might look like.

Absent from those discussions, though, will be the idea of legalizing 
pot for recreational purposes or the wholesale and retail 
infrastructures that were blamed for the failure of Issue 3 on Nov. 3.

Sen. David Burke, a Marysville pharmacist and Republican whose 
district stretches north to Sandusky Bay, is not a fan of marijuana.

But he said the General Assembly must look at the issue rather than 
allow someone else to use the state constitution to go around 
lawmakers as occurred in 2009 when voters legalized casino gambling.

"There is more support among Ohioans for medical marijuana than there 
has been in the past," said Burke, the Senate's frontman on the 
issue. "I believe it is prudent that the General Assembly function as 
it should and reflect the will of our constituents."

The hearings would be designed to gauge support or opposition of the 
concept and to consider options for a distribution system for medical 

Marijuana remains illegal under federal and state law, but lawmakers 
may look at some form of research program that might have the state 
grow, test, and dispense marijuana to patients with debilitating 
conditions, for whom their doctors determine marijuana might be beneficial.

"When something fails with nearly 70 percent (voting "no"), was it 
because they didn't like the content of the ballot question or didn't 
like the way it was presented?" Burke asked. "Ferreting out what 
people are looking for is important."

All of this would occur against the backdrop of talk by 
ResponsibleOhio of trying again this fall to convince voters to 
legalize pot for medical, recreational, and commercial purposes and a 
related proposed law, the Fresh Start Act, that the group has just 
placed in the legislature's lap. The proposed law would wipe out past 
criminal convictions for activity that is no longer considered a crime.

All of this would occur during a presidential election year in which 
one side or the other may see some tactical advantage in having a 
pot-related question on the November ballot.

"We would be looking for a consistent product as part of a 
cost-effective method and coordinated system of health care," Burke 
said. "We would treat it like any other drug but also be mindful that 
this is still an illegal product."

Sen. Kenny Yuko, DRichmond Heights, would be the frontman on the 
issue for minority Senate Democrats. He has multiple sclerosis and 
has introduced pot-legalization bills in the past without success.

State Reps. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, and Mike Curtin, D-Columbus, 
will lead their respective caucuses in the House.

"We're crystallizing our thoughts," Schuring said. "We're hoping that 
sometime by the end of next week we may have an announcement to make.

"It's too soon to say exactly what that will be."

Burke said he hopes the hearings will lead to relatively quick 
drafting of proposed legislation, assuming the hearings point in that 
direction. He said he does not want the issue to linger for a long 
period of time without action.

House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, declined to respond 
last week when asked how the House plans to deal with the Fresh Start 
Act, which was forced into lawmakers' agenda through the petition 
process. The General Assembly has until early May to pass a bill that 
would satisfy the proposal's supporters.

If not, the group could place the question directly before voters on 
the November presidential ballot by gathering more signatures of 
registered voters.
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom