Pubdate: Wed, 11 May 2016
Source: Columbus Dispatch (OH)
Copyright: 2016 The Columbus Dispatch
Author: Jim Siegel


With a proposed constitutional amendment on the horizon, the House 
voted 71-26 on Tuesday to potentially make Ohio the 26th state to 
give residents legal access to medical marijuana.

Some members expressed reluctance about the bill - a vote on which 
would have been near unfathomable just a few years ago - but after 
hearing of the drug's benefits and facing the prospect of a 
less-restrictive constitutional amendment on the November ballot, the 
bill was sent to the Senate. Hearings will start this morning.

Rep. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, an emergency department doctor and 
sponsor of the bill, noted that members heard about children 
prescribed marijuana who went from 300 seizures a day to five, and 
how it helped a veteran with his post-traumatic stress disorder.

"This is what this bill is all about, which is the patients," he 
said. "I am absolutely convinced there is therapeutic value in 
medical marijuana."

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The bill would allow for vaping, but not smoking, and includes 20 
medical conditions that qualify for medical marijuana, such as 
post-traumatic stress disorder and intractable pain. It would 
prohibit home-grown marijuana, require doctors to report how often 
and why the drug is prescribed, and set up an appointed nine-member 
control commission to enact regulations, including locations of farms 
and dispensaries.

The bill also requires an ongoing patient-doctor relationship for the 
drug to be prescribed.

Though some say the bill is too restrictive, supporters say it 
ensures that the drug is used strictly for medical, rather than 
recreational, purposes.

"We are talking about a well-regulated system," said Rep. Kirk 
Schuring, R-Canton, who has led the House study of the issue since 
January. He said he was moved by the testimony he heard from those 
suffering who have found relief from the drug.

As lawmakers look to take some steam out of the proposed 
constitutional amendment on the Nov. 8 ballot, the Senate is likely 
to pass the bill within a few weeks. A ballot issue would override a state law.

"I don't think there's anything that's dynamically different in what 
is the House version versus what would be a Senate version," said 
Sen. Dave Burke, R-Marysville, a pharmacist who worked on the issue for months.

Burke has said he favors having the state Pharmacy Board and the 
State Medical Board handle rules and regulations of medical 
marijuana, instead of the House-passed control commission.

A handful of lawmakers, mostly Democrats, have pushed for medical 
marijuana legalization since the 1990s. Republican leaders took up 
the issue in the wake of a failed marijuana ballot issue last year, 
when it was clear that groups were going to keep pushing the issue 
until voters said yes.

"We give the people an alternative," Huffman said. "I think they're 
going to look at this as a true medical marijuana bill that is best 
for the patients and the citizens of Ohio."

Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, a group backed by the Marijuana Policy 
Project of Washington, D.C., which is pursuing a Nov. 8 ballot issue, 
says the bill is too restrictive and would make patients wait up to 
two years before doctors start writing prescriptions.

"Today's vote will only bring false hope and empty promises to 
Ohioans suffering from debilitating conditions who need medical 
marijuana," said spokesman Aaron Marshall.

Nichole Scholten, an advocate for the pro-medical marijuana group 
Ohio Families CANN, recently urged lawmakers to design a program that 
is "useful and without barriers," and gets buy-in from patients.

"Make them feel untrusted, illegitimate, or under-prioritized and 
they may not," she said. "They may support a citizen initiative instead."

GOP lawmakers have said they oppose the ballot proposal, which would 
allow home-grown marijuana and allow it to be smoked.

The bill ensures that parents and caregivers could not be arrested 
for providing marijuana to patients.

"This is a life-altering piece of legislation for a lot of families 
in this state," said Rep. Dan Ramos, D-Lorain.

The Ohio State Medical Association has said it cannot support the 
bill because marijuana has not undergone proper clinical research and 
federal approval. But the group has said it would prefer legislative 
action to a ballot issue.

In all, 20 Republicans and six Democrats voted against the bill, none 
from Franklin County.

Some Democrats, including Rep. David Leland, D-Columbus, said they 
didn't like that the bill would allow employers to fire someone for 
using marijuana, even it were prescribed legally.

"Not only can you be fired because you are a medical marijuana user 
. we're going to deny you your unemployment benefits for something 
that we just declared legal," he said. "It's like we have schizophrenia here."
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MAP posted-by: Jay Bergstrom