Pubdate: Wed, 11 May 2016
Source: Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (PA)
Copyright: 2016 PG Publishing Co., Inc.
Author: Jim Provance, Block News Alliance
Note: The Block News Alliance consists of the Post-Gazette, The Blade 
of Toledo, Ohio, and television station WDRB in Louisville, Ky. Jim 
Provance is a reporter for The Blade.


COLUMBUS - In the biggest shift in state drug policy in decades, the
Ohio House voted 71-26 on Tuesday to legalize marijuana for medical
use only.

The bill heads to the Senate, where hearings will begin today.
Republican House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger voiced confidence that a
bill could reach Gov. John Kasich's desk before the General Assembly
recesses for the summer before Memorial Day.

Kasich spokesman Joe Andrews said the governor has not committed to
signing this bill, but would sign one if it "is written properly and
there is a need for it."

Ohio could become the 26th state to have some form of medical
marijuana on the books.

Under the bill, pot could not be smoked or grown at home, but patients
under a physician's supervision and armed with a state registration
card could use cannabis in vapor, oil, patch, tincture, plant
material, or edible form.

While the federal government continues to classify marijuana as a
dangerous drug with no benefit, House Bill 523 would downgrade it in
Ohio to Schedule II when it comes to medical use only.

"As members of the General Assembly, we were elected to lead, not to
be led down a road of a constitutional amendment that could never be
changed," said the bill's sponsor, Republican Rep. Stephen Huffman, an
emergency room physician.

He said he kept the Hippocratic oath that he took years ago and the
best interests of patients in mind during the entire process.

"I am absolutely convinced there is therapeutic value in medical
marijuana," he said. "There is no doubt in my mind."

The chamber's only other physician, Republican Rep. Terry Johnson,
voted "no."

The bill drew emotional testimony as lawmakers described family
members whose suffering may have been alleviated by marijuana. Others
said they've struggled to balance that with worries the bill could
worsen the state's drug problems.

Support and opposition defied partisan labels.

Northwest Ohio lawmakers supporting the bill included Democratic Reps.
Michael Ashford and Mike Sheehy; and Republican Reps. Barbara Sears,
Tim Brown, Steve Arndt, Robert McColley, Bill Reineke, Tony Burkley,
Robert Cupp and Jeff McClain.

The region's sole negative votes belonged to Republican Rep. Robert
Sprague, a leader in the chamber's fight against drug addiction, and
Democratic Rep. Teresa Fedor.

Ms. Fedor criticized the bill for preserving an employer's right to
fire or discipline a worker who tests positive for marijuana even if
he holds a medical card. The bill also denies unemployment
compensation to such a worker and makes it tougher to qualify for
workers' compensation in the event of an on-the-job injury if the
employee is found to still have marijuana is his system.

"You can congratulate yourselves all you want ... but this is a cruel
joke when citizens find out they have to leave Ohio to get a job," Ms.
Fedor said. "And I thought we were all about jobs all the time."

The bill is designed to regulate and track marijuana production at
every level from "seed to sale." Patients with certain diseases and
debilitating conditions who are armed with recommendations from their
doctors could buy pot and related products from licensed retail
dispensaries only.

A new nine-member state commission appointed by the governor and
legislative leaders and operating within the Department of Commerce
would write the rules and license pot growers, processors, retailers,
and laboratories.

It could take as long as two years before the first marijuana would be
sold by a dispensary. In the meantime, no pot could be legally
consumed. That sets it apart from competing constitutional amendments
that are trying to get on the Nov. 8 ballot and, if approved by
voters, would top anything that lawmakers pass.

The bill specifically lists 18 conditions for which medical marijuana
is deemed appropriate.

They include AIDS, HIV, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, cancer, chronic
traumatic encephalopathy, Crohn's disease, epilepsy of other seizure
disorders, glaucoma, hepatitis C, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple
sclerosis, "chronic, severe, or intractable" pain, Parkinson's,
post-traumatic stress syndrome, sickle cell anemia, spinal cord
damage, Tourette's syndrome, and traumatic brain syndrome.

The commission could add more later.

The bill won the support of Republican Rep. Ron Young, one of the
chamber's most conservative members.

"On the one hand, I have my supporters who are adamantly against this
. and on the other hand we have a situation where drug dealers could
actually be in a position where they write our legislation," he said.
"They usurp our constitution. ... The people are all too ready to
support anything that contains medical marijuana ...

"This particular bill has a lot of guardrails on it that give me some
piece of mind."

The Block News Alliance consists of the Post-Gazette, The Blade of
Toledo, Ohio, and television station WDRB in Louisville, Ky. Jim
Provance is a reporter for The Blade.
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