The federal government's recent decision to ease up on prosecuting patients using medical marijuana has brought hope to activists in Ohio seeking a medical marijuana law.
But getting lawmakers here to approve therapeutic marijuana use promises to be an uphill battle.
State Rep. Kenny Yuko, a Richmond Heights Democrat, is drafting legislation with groups that want Ohio to become the 15th state to allow those who are seriously ill to use medical marijuana. While working on getting backers to unite behind a single approach, Yuko was heartened by the recent decision by U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder to redirect investigations away from patients in states that allow medical marijuana.
"It's definitely good news for people who care about this issue," said Yuko, who has multiple sclerosis but is not seeking to use medical marijuana. "I hope this gives us an opportunity to get due consideration in the House and Senate."
But Yuko acknowledges that it's "not going to be an easy sell" to get a medical marijuana measure through the legislature, especially with the vehement opposition of prosecutors and police groups.
Even supporters of medical marijuana like Ed Orlett, a former Ohio lawmaker who heads the Drug Policy Alliance Ohio, said that time is running out on passing a bill this session.
"The legislature hasn't been terribly productive anyway, and I think it's not likely they will want to tackle any controversial bills next year," Orlett said.
In 1996, Ohio lawmakers passed a criminal sentencing bill that allowed an "affirmative defense" for the medical use of marijuana. However, lawmakers said they weren't aware of the provision slipped into the 1,000-page bill, and legislation removing it was passed in early 1997. Since then, several medical marijuana bills have died in the legislature.
"I think it's because of the history of it, and people still have the perception that this is really about somehow trying to get recreational marijuana legalized," Yuko said. "But what this is really about is giving opportunities to make a difference in the quality of life for some sick people."
Yuko said his legislation probably will be modeled after Senate Bill 343, which Sen. Tom Roberts, a Dayton-area Democrat, introduced last session. That bill would have allowed Ohio doctors to prescribe marijuana to patients who would be issued cards by the state health department to show to police if necessary.
Aaron Marshall and Joe Guillen
October 21, 2009