Ohio senators mulling major revisions to medical marijuana system

Ohio senators mulling major revisions to medical cannabis system

by Nick Evans, Ohio Capital Journal

Ohio senators have filed legislation that represents a broad revision of the state’s medical marijuana system. Among the changes is language expanding access to the drug if a physician “reasonably” believes their patient’s symptoms would be relieved or they would otherwise benefit from marijuana.

It’s a potentially massive expansion of eligibility for patients after years of piecemeal additions to the list of qualifying conditions. But for the bill’s sponsor, Sen. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, a streamlined regulatory structure is the measure’s primary aim.

“The biggest example is the Department of Pharmacy regulates dispensaries, and the Department of Commerce regulates cultivators,” Huffman described. “So if you own one of each you have to go to each one to make business decisions.”

He notes the Department of Pharmacy will still manage a database of prescriptions through the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System, or OARRS, but most oversight will fall under the purview of a new Division of Marijuana Control housed in the Commerce Department. Huffman also believes the measure will encourage the department to offer more licenses as the market grows and put pressure on license holders to bring product to market rapidly.

Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko has signed on as cosponsor of the bill. It doesn’t cover everything on his wish list — he notes it lacks employment protections for people prescribed the drug — but he sees it as an important step forward.

“I know the need. I know what we did in 2016 was just the smallest of fractions of what was needed here in Ohio,” Yuko said. “What this bill does is trying to move us in the right direction. Is it all inclusive? Not even close. Does it cover all the issues I want covered? Not yet.”

Meanwhile, the proposal is competing for attention with three recreational marijuana proposals — two in the Statehouse and the third at the ballot box. Huffman and Yuko both draw a distinction between medical and recreational pot, insisting that their measure and the other ideas are completely different conversations. But as the universe of qualifying patients expands, the distinction between recreational and medicinal gets blurry.

One notable aspect left out of Huffman and Yuko’s measure are provisions for home cultivation. Both measures in the House make allowances for it. Democratic Reps. Casey Weinstein of Hudson and Terrence Upchurch of Cleveland would allow up to 12. Meanwhile Republican Reps. Jamie Callender of Concord and Ron Ferguson of Wintersville would allow six plants with up to two of them flowering. The ballot measure would allow home grown marijuana as well, capping the amount at six plants per person and no more than 12 per residence.

Yuko doesn’t oppose giving Ohioans latitude to grow their own, noting some constituents have complained about long drives to a dispensary.

“I think it’s fair,” Yuko said. “I think it’s fair.”

As for a specific amount, Yuko said he’d leave that determination to “the experts.”

But Huffman is skeptical of home cultivation. He worries it might support illicit sales or become a magnet for theft. He also contends restricting production to regulated growers is a consumer safety consideration.

“I don’t know what other medicine you grow or make yourself at home,” Huffman says. “And so that’s why we’re staying away from home grown. It’s to keep the quality up.”

Ohio Capital Journal is part of States Newsroom, a network of news bureaus supported by grants and a coalition of donors as a 501c(3) public charity. Ohio Capital Journal maintains editorial independence. Contact Editor David DeWitt for questions: [email protected] Follow Ohio Capital Journal on Facebook and Twitter.

  • Struggle between large, small growers over Ohio cannabis reform
    A Senate measure that would expand significantly the state’s medical marijuana system for businesses and patients got its second committee hearing Tuesday. The proposal is beginning to move as a different and more expansive recreational measure gathers signatures for next year’s ballot.
  • Reps. Dave Joyce and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez Introduce Legislation To Expunge Marijuana Records
    Today, Representatives Dave Joyce (R-OH) and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) introduced legislation to incentivize state and local governments to expunge the criminal records of tens of millions of Americans who have previously been convicted of marijuana offenses.
  • New Jersey Entrepreneurs bring social equity company REEForm to East Coast
    Social justice in cannabis is a popular topic, but actual change is elusive. Two New Jersey cannabis entrepreneurs built a business around making a difference in their community. They’re trying to deliver on the promise of social equity in cannabis. On September 14, New Jerseyians gathered at the Doubletree Hilton in Newark to learn about…
  • Head of NORML optimistic on cannabis banking through NDAA
    While defense bills don’t usually interest cannabis advocates, an amendment added by Representative Ed Perlmutter (D-CO) included the language of the SAFE Banking Act in the NDAA. With the standalone bill stalled in the Senate Banking Committee, an amendment to the “must-pass” legislation could be the key.
  • Advocate responds to SD high court overturning adult-use cannabis
    South Dakota’s highest court sided with the state’s governor today in declaring an amendment legalizing cannabis invalid. Amendment A, which passed with 54% support, would have legalized cannabis for anyone over 21.
  • Organizer says next steps on Ohio adult-use cannabis by month’s end
    Ohio attorney Thomas Haren, a representative of the “Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol,” said he expects that enough signatures will be gathered to move a proposal forward that would allow for adult use, sale, and possession of marijuana in Ohio.
  • Montana regulators will reverse proposed CBD, dispensary worker rules
    The Montana Department of Revenue told lawmakers this week that it will strike a pair of proposed rules implementing the state’s fledgling recreational marijuana program after hearing considerable input from members of the public, the cannabis industry and legislators who warned that the rules veered from the intent of House Bill 701, an act passed this session regulating the adult-use pot.
  • Cannabis prices soar in Louisiana due to regulatory bottleneck
    A regulatory bottleneck in Louisiana’s medical marijuana supply chain has inflated costs far beyond the prices found in other states, according to industry experts who testified at the Louisiana Legislature’s Medical Marijuana Commission meeting Thursday.
  • Critics say AZ ‘social equity’ program makes Big Cannabis even richer
    “This is a program that, as currently written, is designed to fail,” attorney Julie Gunnigle said to Arizona Mirror. Gunnigle up until recently worked for Arizona’s Chapter of NORML, an organization that pushes for the reform of marijuana laws across the United States.
  • Bipartisan bill to reduce Wisconsin cannabis fines introduced
    Wisconsin legislators are taking another crack at a bipartisan push to achieve cannabis reform in the state. A new piece of legislation, co-authored by Rep. Shae Sortwell (R-Gibson), Rep. Sylvia Ortiz-Valez (D-Milwaukee), Sen. Lena Taylor (D-Milwaukee) and Sen. Kathleen Bernier (R- Chippewa Falls), reduces existing penalties for cannabis possession.