Pubdate: Wed, 20 Apr 2016
Source: Hudson Hub-Times (OH)
Section: Capital News
Copyright: 2016 Record Publishing Co, LLC.
Author: Marc Kovac, Capital Bureau Chief


Columbus -- Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger said he wasn't
stalling on consideration of medical marijuana when his chamber
launched a task force and a series of public hearings on legalization
earlier this year.

I guess he wasn't kidding.

After years of pushing from advocates, lawmakers in the Ohio House are
poised to consider a Republican-sponsored bill that would allow
Ohioans to use marijuana for medicinal purposes, at the direction of a
licensed physician.

They don't appear to be messing around, either. Rep. Kirk Schuring
(R-Canton), who headed the task force and who will spearhead the
select committee considering the new legislation, said he intends to
move the bill rapidly through the chamber.

You can start keeping tabs on the process this week, because hearings
are scheduled on Tuesdays and Wednesdays at 3 p.m. and Thursdays at 11
a.m "until further notice."

Schuring said he'd like to see the legislation passed out of the House
by the end of the month, giving the Senate the month of May to
complete its process.

Republican Senate President Keith Faber isn't offering the same
assurances of passage -- "Like everyone involved, we have a lot of
questions and concerns that will naturally be addressed during the
legislative process, and it's impossible to say at this point what the
final product will look like or even if we'll have a final product.
That's part of what will be decided in the coming weeks," he said in a
released statement.

But it's clear that both chambers of the legislature will be talking
about medical marijuana between now and their summer recess.

What's Next?

So where does that leave us?

Lawmakers are preparing to act on the legalization of medical
marijuana, something continued polling has shown is supported by a
majority of voting-age Ohioans.

At the same time, two groups have been given the green light to
circulate petitions for separate constitutional amendments on the issue.

The Marijuana Policy Project has the lengthier of the two proposals,
calling for the creation of a control commission to oversee the
regulation of medical marijuana in the state.

The other, titled the Medicinal Cannabis and Industrial Hemp
Amendment, is shorter, without all of the regulatory details. Instead
it guarantees the right of residents" to "possess, process, transport,
use, share and cultivate" marijuana for medical purposes, with the
state given power to tax and regulate production, sales and use.

It's not going to be easy (or inexpensive) for backers of either to
gather the 300,000-plus signatures they'll need in hand by early July
to place their amendments before voters in November.

But the timing is interesting.

Lawmakers have scheduled sessions through the end of May, with "if
needed" days through mid-June.

If they decide not to act, backers of either medical marijuana
amendment effort still have time to submit their petitions to qualify
for the general election. They just have to spend a lot of money and
get circulators out on the streets post haste to accomplish the task.

It's probably a safe bet that a medical marijuana-focused amendment
would get a more positive reception from voters in November than last
year's ill-fated ResponsibleOhio proposal. That's not even mentioning
how the eventual presidential ticket would affect turnout or support
or opposition to a marijuana ballot issue.

The question is do marijuana opponents in the legislature risk an
outside group controlling the future of the issue or do they act now
and ensure the state governs legalization?

The next few weeks will be telling.

Marc Kovac is the Dix Capital Bureau Chief.
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