Ohio: Medical Marijuana Efforts Differ In Who Can Grow, Who Can Use

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Ohio looks likely approve medical marijuana, and would become the 25th state to do so if either a new state law clears the Legislature, or a constitutional amendment is approved by voters this November.

State lawmakers and two citizen advocacy groups are working simultaneously to bring medicinal cannabis to Ohioans who have qualifying medical conditions, reports Alan Johnson at The Columbus Dispatch.

Here are some key differences among House Bill 523 (which is the proposed legislation), the Marijuana Policy Project amendment, and the Medicinal Cannabis and Industrial Hemp amendment, according to the Dispatch.

Impact: HB 523, the legislation, would change only Ohio law. Both ballot proposals would amend the Ohio Constitution.

Marijuana in smokeable form: HB 523 does not specifically allow it but doesn’t rule it out. Both ballot issues would allow it.

Home-grown pot: The legislation would not allow growing marijuana at home; both ballot issues would allow it in limited quantities.

Growers: The Marijuana Policy Project amendment would allow 15 large growers and unlimited small growers. Neither the legislation nor the cannabis and hemp amendment specify grower numbers.

Qualifying conditions: No specific qualifying medical conditions for medical marijuana are listed in HB 523. Both amendments cite a list of ailments, conditions and diseases that would qualify.

Doctor requirements: HB 523 spells out numerous requirements for physicians, including registration and reporting marijuana prescriptions every 90 days. The amendments contain no specific requirements.

Banking: The legislation would provide a “safe harbor” for banks and financial institutions to avoid potential criminal charges for working with individuals and businesses in the marijuana industry. Neither amendment includes a specific banking provision.

Timing: Both ballot issues aim to make marijuana as medicine available next year, while the Ohio Legislature would likely take two years to implement.

HB 523 would cost $750,000 to implement then $500,000 a year, according to a fiscal analysis of its potential cost done by the Legislative Service Commission. This money would be the cost of the Ohio Board of Pharmacy operating a marijuana-authorization monitoring program. New costs fore the Marijuana Control Commission, which would be located in the Ohio Department of Health, were not calculated.

The Ohio Rights Group at one time was planning its own ballot initiative, but last week announced it will be supporting the MPP initiative because it will "bring much needed therapeutic relief to the seriously ill in Ohio."

The Ohio Farm Bureau Federation is taking a wait-and-see approach to all three proposals, according to Adam Sharp, vice president of public policy. The group hasn't even looked closely yet at the marijuana and hemp proposal, which would allow cultivation of industrial hemp, a low-THC cousin of marijuana without its psychoactive qualities. Industrial hemp can be used in the manufacture of cloth, rope, oils, and food.

Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, which is working with MPP, responded to HB 523 with a 12-point memo outlining "serious concerns" about the proposed legislation. Among the concerns are decision-making behind left in the hands of nine "unaccountable, unelected political appointees" on the Marijuana Control Commission; imposing "considerable hardships on patients" by requiring office visits every 90 days; providing no legal protection at all for patients or caregivers; and denying the ability for patients to grow their own medicine at home.

Timing is urgent to some patients, according to school psychologist Andrea Gunnoe, a business owner, wife and mother of four from Dublin, Ohio, who testified to a legislative panel last week. Gunnoe wants the state to approve medical marijuana to control her three-year-old son Reid's frequent epileptic seizures.