Ohio’s General Assembly Votes to Legalize Medical Marijuana

Yesterday the Ohio General Assembly completed its work on HB 523 by passing the final version of the bill to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio. The bill is now in front of Governor John Kasich, who has 10 days from passage to act on it. Should Governor Kasich not sign it, the bill would still become law and take effect 90 days after the Governor’s signature (or 90 days after the 10th day if he does not sign, but also does not veto the legislation). When reached for comment, Kasich spokesman Joe Andrews would not confirm that Governor Kasich would sign the bill, and only told Jackie Borchardt with Cleveland.com that “[h]e’s said if we need it and we got a good bill he’d be OK with it[.]” In the past, however, Kasich has signaled support for medical marijuana.

HB 523 allows for patients suffering from a number of conditions to use and possess a 90-day supply of medical cannabis in various forms, but there is a prohibition on smoking cannabis. The list of conditions includes:

  1. HIV/AIDS;
  2. Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS);
  3. Alzheimer’s disease;
  4. Cancer;
  5. Chronic traumatic encephalopathy (CTE);
  6. Crohn’s disease;
  7. Epilepsy or another seizure disorder;
  8. Fibromyalgia;
  9. Glaucoma;
  10. Hepatitis C;
  11. Inflammatory bowel disease;
  12. Multiple sclerosis;
  13. Pain that is either (a) chronic and severe, or  (b) intractable;
  14. Parkinson’s disease;
  15. Post-traumatic stress disorder;
  16. Sickle cell anemia;
  17. Spinal cord disease or injury;
  18. Tourette’s syndrome;
  19. Traumatic brain injury; and
  20. Ulcerative colitis.

Ohioans can submit petitions to the State Medical Board to include additional conditions later on. The final version passed by the General Assembly does have some differences from the substitute bill offered by Senator Burke during Senate Committee hearings. For example, the Committee modified the definition of eligible “pain” to include that which is either chronic and severe, or intractable — the prior version required pain to be chronic, severe and intractable, which would greatly limit the number of eligible patients. Second, the Committee removed the requirement for pharmacists to be present in dispensaries. Finally, the legislation splits the regulatory responsibility for the medical cannabis industry among three distinct agencies:

  1. The Department of Commerce, which is responsible for regulating cultivators and processors;
  2.  The State Pharmacy Board, which is responsible for regulating dispensaries, along with patient and caregiver registration; and
  3. The State Medical Board, which is responsible for regulating and training physicians to recommend medical cannabis.

The Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee will recommend rules to these three agencies, and Ohio’s medical cannabis industry will be up and running within 2 years of the legislation’s effective date. For the full text of HB 523 as passed by the Ohio Senate, click here. 

To be sure, this is not a perfect bill. It does not go as far as many advocates (including myself) had hoped. Among other things, the list of qualifying conditions is too restrictive, it gives too much unchecked authority to unaccountable political appointees, and the requirement that patients only possess a “90 day supply” of their medicine seems overly burdensome, especially considering patients who will likely have trouble making it out of their homes.

The real test begins once the three regulatory agencies begin writing the regulations. Will they allow innovation, entrepreneurship, and a vibrant industry that will provide safe and reliable access to cannabis for Ohio patients? Or will Ohio be like New York, with a system allowing for only a handful of dispensaries and a small number of registered patients?

It may very well be that the Ohioans for Medical Marijuana ballot initiative provides the best opportunity for Ohio patients to truly benefit from medical cannabis. HB 523 may, as critics argue, simply be too restrictive. But there is no real doubt that HB 523 is a step forward for Ohio patients. If you are somebody who has advocated for safe medical marijuana in Ohio for decades, then rejoice because your tireless efforts have borne fruit. But don’t celebrate too long, because the real fight is just beginning.

Stay tuned for deep dives into HB 523 and the rule making process going forward, as well as the progress for the Ohioans for Medical Marijuana ballot initiative.

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