COLUMBUS — After months of research and testimony, Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Task Force has released its recommendations.
At a press conference last week, Speaker of the Ohio House Clifford A. Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) and State Rep. Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) discussed takeaways from the recently concluded Medical Marijuana Task Force hearings and shared a plan moving forward on the issue in Ohio.
“The task force was created with no preconceived ideas or results in mind,” said Schuring, who chaired the task force. “Our goal was simply to bring diverse and divergent opinions together to start a conversation and to gather as much information about the subject as possible.”
The task force held seven hearings in all and heard about 25 hours of testimony from more than 100 individuals who testified on all sides of the medical marijuana debate. Among those who testified were medical professionals, experts from around the country, Ohioans suffering from pain and illness, employers, law enforcement officers and representatives from drug addiction facilities.
“I first want to applaud Rep. Schuring for his diligent work in chairing the task force and for the members of the panel who devoted so much of their time so that Ohioans could have the opportunity to share their voice,” Rosenberger said. “As this process moves forward, I believe it is imperative that our efforts focus solely on medical marijuana and its implications, while remaining steadfast in our mission to fight against the state’s drug addiction problem.”
During the press conference, the legislators also discussed some of the steps moving forward, including legislation that is planned to be introduced this week, which will be sponsored by Rep. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City). Huffman represents Ohio’s 80th House District, which includes the southern part of Darke County.
The legislation would create the Medical Marijuana Control Commission, a nine-person panel appointed by the Governor, Senate President and House Speaker. The commission would be responsible for closely regulating marijuana policy in Ohio, including licensing entities involved in the process such as cultivators, retail dispensaries, independent labs and physicians. The bill would allow only for licensed physicians to recommend and dispense marijuana for medical purposes.
“As members of the Ohio House, we are elected to lead, and that is what we are doing by forming the Medical Marijuana Control Commission,” Huffman said. “This bill will be able to regulate from the growers, to the manufacturers, the medical conditions, and will be able to change it in the future as it continues to evolve.”
The bill does not mandate that employers must accommodate an employee’s use of medical marijuana in the workplace, and it allows an employer to refuse to hire or take other employment action against an employee because of medical marijuana use. Individuals discharged from their jobs because of medical marijuana use would be disqualified from receiving unemployment compensation benefits.
If signed into law, medical marijuana legalization would be phased in over a two-year period: One year to promulgate rules and another year to move forward for implementation. From seed to sale, medical marijuana would be tightly regulated and taxed.
Also under the bill:
• Home-growing marijuana is prohibited;
• The Commission will conduct background checks on all applicants;
• The Commission will establish and maintain a record containing the number of patients and medical conditions for which medical marijuana is recommended;
• The General Assembly and Administration will advocate Congress and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to reschedule marijuana from Schedule I to Schedule II;
• The General Assembly shall create an incentive program for institutions of higher learning and medical institutions to perform academic and medical research;
• Minors must have consent from a parent or guardian to use medical marijuana.
Huffman sees his bill as one way of heading off proposed marijuana initiatives which could appear on Ohio ballots in November.
One initiative, sponsored by the group Ohioans For Medical Marijuana, has received approval from the Ohio Ballot Board to begin collecting signatures. It would allow adults to grow, use or purchase marijuana if approved by a physician.
Another initiative, the “Medicinal Cannabis and Industrial Hemp Amendment,” would allow people to grow marijuana for “medicinal purposes” and let farmers grow industrial hemp. This proposal has been certified by Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and is awaiting approval by the Ohio Ballot Board.
“We’re confident our bill is better than the ballot initiative,” said Huffman, who calls the proposals for home-grown marijuana “pseudo-recreational.”
“Any discussion of recreational marijuana is a discussion for another day,” he said.
Not everyone is on board with the task force’s recommendations. The Ohio State Medical Association (OSMA), the state’s largest physician-led organization, issued a press release expressing its opposition.
“While the OSMA values medical innovation that transforms health care delivery and improves the health of patients, the OSMA opposes this measure because it draws conclusions about the medicinal benefits of marijuana absent conclusive clinical research,” the press release said.
“OSMA policy — updated on April 2, 2016 — supports Institutional Review Board (IRB) approved clinical research to explore the potential benefits of using marijuana to treat specific medical conditions. If research yields proven medicinal benefits of marijuana and is approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), the OSMA would only then support focused and controlled use of the drug or its chemical components when prescribed by a physician.”
In response, Huffman said, “The [OSMA] attitude is the attitude of many people. However, I feel it’s best if the General Assembly gets this done, in order to head off the ballot initiative.”
Huffman said he believes the bill could pass the Ohio House by May 1 and the Ohio Senate by Memorial Day. It would then go to Ohio Gov. John Kasich, who would have 10 days to sign the measure into law.
“I’m hoping we see this enacted by this summer,” he said.
As for the prospect of marijuana being grown or distributed close to home, Huffman said the bill allows for local control.
“If the people of, say, Greenville, Tipp City or Troy get together and decide they don’t want growers or manufacturers there, they can do that,” he said.
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