COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Ohio took a big step forward Tuesday to becoming the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana. The Ohio House on Tuesday approved a bill legalizing marijuana use for people with qualifying medical conditions with a doctor's recommendation. House Bill 523 passed in a 71-26 vote and now heads to the Senate. Rep. Stephen Huffman, the bill's sponsor and an emergency room physician, recited part of the Hippocratic Oath on the House floor as he urged colleagues to vote "yes." "I am absolutely convinced that there is therapeutic value in medical marijuana," Huffman, a Tipp City Republican, said. He said the bill reflects patients' needs and desires of all Ohioans and will be a model for other states to follow.
What would the bill do?
Patients with one of about 20 qualifying medical conditions could buy and use marijuana if their Ohio-licensed physician recommends it.
The doctor would have to recommend a type of marijuana and method of consumption -- smoking would not be allowed.
A nine-member medical marijuana commission would write rules and regulations for the program within two years of the bill becoming law.
The state would issue licenses for growing, testing, processing, and selling marijuana. Application fees and other details would be decided by the commission.
Caregivers and parents who are patients would not be arrested or lose their children for possessing or using marijuana.
Employers could still maintain drug-free workplace policies, and patients fired for marijuana use would be ineligible for unemployment compensation.
Municipalities can decide to ban marijuana businesses.
The legislature will urge the federal government to reschedule marijuana as a Schedule 2 drug, which some say will increase medical research on the plant.
What about the ballot issues?
Huffman said after the vote that the bill is a viable option to the proposed medical marijuana ballot measures. "We give people an alternative and I think they're going to look at it as a true medical marijuana bill that's best for the patients and best for the citizens for Ohio," Huffman said. Ballot group Ohioans for Medical Marijuana said Tuesday they're not backing down. Their effort, backed by national group Marijuana Policy Project, lists several more qualifying conditions than the House bill and allows people to smoke and grown their own marijuana.
"It's a shame lawmakers couldn't have made history with a vote on a substantive and meaningful medical marijuana bill," spokesman Aaron Marshall said. Marshall said language requiring doctors to recommend types of marijuana with specific THC levels puts doctors at odds with federal law and will discourage many physicians from registering to recommend it. House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger noted Marijuana Policy Project supported Pennsylvania's medical marijuana law, which also prohibited smoking and homegrown cannabis.
What did lawmakers say?
Rep. Dan Ramos, a Lorain Democrat who co-sponsored the bill, called it "the finest piece of legislation he's seen." Ramos said science and anecdotal evidence has proven marijuana can help many conditions. Rep. Tim Brown, a Bowling Green Republican, said he was reluctant to serve on the panel vetting the bill, but testimony from parents and patients changed his mind about marijuana. Brown said opiate prescriptions are a "four-lane highway" to heroin abuse, yet the General Assembly has not outlawed them.
"One thing is for certain -- the potential positive of patients recommended to use this patch or oil or pill could lead to a drastic reduction in the number of prescribed highly-addictive, known gateway drugs that are killing so many of our citizens," Brown said. Rep. Teresa Fedor, a Toldeo Democrat, voted against the bill because it lacks protections for patients on the job and disqualifies them from unemployment benefits if fired for marijuana use. "It's discriminatory," Fedor said. "No, as a matter of fact, it's a cruel joke." Fedor and five other Democrats joined 20 Republicans in voting against the bill.
The bill now moves to the Senate, which is expected to make a few minor changes before passing the bill. Rosenberger said lawmakers have discussed the bill with Gov. John Kasich's administration and he's confident the bill will be on the governor's desk before lawmakers leave town in June for the summer.
Rosenberger said there's no need to legalize recreational marijuana in Ohio.
Jackie Borchardt, cleveland.com
May 10, 2016