Lawmakers want medical marijuana legal in Ohio by summer

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Medical marijuana will be legalized in Ohio by summer, state representatives pledged Wednesday, calling their legislative effort more responsible and comprehensive than any ballot proposal.

The Ohio legislation comes as the national Marijuana Policy Project pursues a medical marijuana issue for the state’s fall ballot. Polling during a more sweeping ballot campaign that failed last year made clear to the Republican-controlled state Legislature that the issue wasn’t going away.

House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, a Clarksville Republican, said it would be “irresponsible” for those pursuing ballot campaigns to proceed rather than joining the legislative effort.

“This is the people’s House and we’re responding to the good citizens of the state of Ohio that had expressed interest in medical marijuana and its purposes,” Rosenberger said. “But we need to ensure that we’re doing it the right way.”

Marijuana Policy Project spokesman Mason Tvert said he was surprised that a top state political leader would ask voters to give up their constitutional right to bring forward a ballot issue.

“Ultimately, we think it would be irresponsible for us to abandon our initiative plans based on the Legislature saying it intends to do something it may never end up doing,” he said. “Patients and families and activists have been begging the Legislature to take action on this issue for years and years.”

The House bill, expected this week, would allow licensed doctors to prescribe edibles, patches, plant material and oils. State Rep. Kirk Schuring, a Canton Republican who chaired a medical marijuana task force, said it will prohibit home growing — which he says is too hard to control.

The House leaders set an aggressive schedule for the legislation. It would clear the House this month, the Senate next month, reach Republican Gov. John Kasich by May 31 and become law by Aug. 31. A nine-member Medical Marijuana Control Commission would be appointed within 30 days of the law taking effect and take about a year to write rules for the program. Dispensaries could be up and running in under two years, Schuring said.

Republican Senate President Keith Faber was quick to rein in the House’s predictions, saying “it’s impossible to say at this point what the final product will look like or even if we’ll have a final product.”

The control commission would represent medicine, law enforcement, employers, labor, pharmacists, the general public, the pro-medical marijuana movement, alcohol and drug addiction services and mental health.

The bill also would urge Ohio universities and hospitals to conduct medical marijuana research, Schuring said.

Doctors certified by the commission to prescribe medical marijuana would have to regularly report on cases where it is recommended, including the conditions it was used to treat, the form prescribed and why it was picked over more conventional medicines.

The Ohio State Medical Association, the state’s largest physician-led group, expressed opposition to the House plan. It said there is already a process in place for conducting clinical research of potentially beneficial medications and for bringing medicine to patients.

Ian James, who led last year’s Issue 3 marijuana legalization effort, called the House proposal historic.

“We’ve never had in the state’s history a time when the Statehouse has so thoroughly vetted medical marijuana, considered its positives, its negatives and brought so many people together,” he said. “The devil is always in the details, but this is encouraging.”

Schuring said the bill will also take steps to protect local communities, employers and financial institutions.

Communities will be able to opt out of hosting dispensaries, businesses seeking drug-free environments will be protected from medical marijuana use at work and banks will have safe harbor to invest in marijuana-related businesses without facing federal penalties.

Ohio would also call on the federal government to reduce the classification of marijuana from a Schedule I to a Schedule II narcotic under the plan.

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