Ohio Senate Committee Amends Medical Marijuana Bill
Today I had the opportunity to offer testimony on H.B. 523 to the Ohio Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee, which is considering the medical marijuana bill passed by the Ohio House last week.
My testimony focused on the need for clarity as to precisely how (and how many) licenses will be granted by the State. Last year Ohioans rejected ResponsibleOhio’s cartel not because they opposed legalizing medical cannabis – in fact, current Ohio polling shows 90% of Ohioans favor it – but because they opposed the consolidation of market power in favor of 10 wealth investors. I am concerned that without sufficient direction from the Ohio General Assembly, the entity charged with awarding medical cannabis licenses will restrict the market so that we arrive at a similar level of consolidation.
Ohio’s medical cannabis industry is estimated to generate $100 million in annual sales, and a market of that size will function best when it is open to competition. Top-down planning does not work in any segment of the economy, and medical cannabis is no different. Over-regulation and market restriction will turn away entrepreneurs and innovators, and leave Ohio patients with poor access to the medicine they need. Consequently, I asked the General Assembly to ensure that applicants for medical cannabis licenses are judged by their own merit and the benefit they can provide to Ohio patients, as opposed to arbitrary restrictions from political appointees.
A version of my written testimony can be read by clicking here. (Full disclosure: I cleaned up a typo from the version submitted to the Committee. I would fire my copy editor for the mistake, but (a) he works for free, and (b) he’s me.)
In other news, Senator David Burke offered a substitute bill making a number of changes to the bill sent from the House. Here are some of the most notable changes:
- The Medical Marijuana Control Commission, originally designed to oversee the medical cannabis industry in Ohio, will be advisory in nature. Most of the industry regulation will be done by the Ohio Pharmacy Board, with regulations specific to Ohio physicians done by the Ohio State Medical Board. The Commission will advise both of these Boards on industry regulation.
- The timeline to begin licensing cultivators would be cut in half.
- The programs for providing low-cost cannabis to veterans and low-income Ohioans would be eliminated.
- The substitute bill incorporates an affirmative defense for patients who obtained medical cannabis from other states prior to it being legally sold in Ohio.
- Each dispensary would be required to have a pharmacist present at all times.
- Alzheimer’s disease and fibromyalgia would be included in the list of conditions qualified for medical cannabis.
- The licenses granted to applicants would be tied to a particular location in the state.
- In order for an employee to lose unemployment benefits for using medical cannabis, the employer must have adopted and posted a policy prohibiting medical cannabis usage.
- Qualified pain will need to be chronic, severe, and intractable.
There are some improvements in these amendments (the affirmative defense, reducing the timeline to license cannabis cultivators) but there are also some disappointing changes (removing the program to assist low-income Ohioans/veterans and offering a restrictive definition of “pain”). I am hopeful that the General Assembly will correct these issues as they continue to debate the bill.
All in all, this bill is an improvement over the current prohibition on medical cannabis in Ohio, but there are still items that should be addressed to ensure that Ohio’s medical cannabis industry is an open marketplace that will truly benefit Ohio’s patients. I’ll follow process of the medical marijuana bill as it continues to move through the General Assembly and keep you informed of all the latest developments in Ohio marijuana law.
Correction: an earlier version of this post indicated that a physician was necessary at the dispensaries at all times. That was a typo (again with the copy editor). The substitute bill requires a pharmacist to be present at the dispensaries.