Legal medical marijuana on deck as Ohio lawmakers near break

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio squeaked through a critical Senate panel Wednesday over the opposition of some Republicans and Democrats, signaling a busy day of last-minute political deal-cutting as lawmakers seek to wrap up work before their summer break.

The Senate Government Oversight & Reform Committee’s 7-5 vote set the stage for probable passage of the marijuana bill out of both legislative chambers by the end of the day. Many legislators were anticipating a long night, as the House and Senate inched along past 5 p.m. Wednesday in passing dozens of bills scheduled for votes before day’s end.

Lawmakers set a goal of passing the marijuana bill before breaking until after the November election, viewing it as ammunition against a well-funded medical marijuana issue working its way to fall ballots.

The final bill bars patients from smoking or growing their own marijuana for medical use, but allows its use in vapor form for certain chronic health conditions.

Late changes to the measure bar dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a daycare center, rather than the earlier 500 feet, and prohibit housing discrimination against patients.

Gov. John Kasich’s spokesman said the Republican will review the bill once he gets it.

Among other proposals proceeding Wednesday were bills:

— Restoring a sales tax exemption on investment metal bullion and coins. A committee amended the bill to clarify that those eligible coins must be composed primarily of gold, silver, platinum or palladium. Coins bought for their potential value as collectibles would be taxed.

— Letting Ohioans register to vote online beginning next year.

— Allowing a person denied public records the chance to seek relief from the Ohio Court of Claims.

— Allowing sales of certain wines at farmers’ markets.

— Toughening penalties for serious abuse of pets.

— Eliminating the current structure of Ohio’s bipartisan legislative prison watchdog agency.

Prison-rights advocates were pushing back against the latter move, which they believed was being fast-tracked Wednesday. Lawmakers reconstituted the 40-year-old Correctional Institution Inspection Committee in a committee vote Tuesday. The legislation was headed to likely Senate approval Wednesday.

In an open letter to the Senate, executive director Joanna Saul asked for “a full and fair hearing” before the committee structure is replaced.

The amendment requires approval of four people to conduct a prison inspection and dictates a majority of committee members must be present at such reviews. Saul said getting busy lawmakers to attend inspections is difficult. Ohio law was changed in 2008 so they’re not required to attend inspections.

The proposal further removes a legal requirement that all 27 adult and three juvenile prisons be inspected biennially.

Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the John Howard Association in Illinois, was among those working the phones to save the committee. She said it’s viewed as a national model whose operations are being emulated by her nonprofit organization.

“We’re shocked and really concerned,” she said.

A least one legislative proposal that had been slated for action on Wednesday will have to wait until the fall. A House committee shelved a plan to create a new commission to review and help set the compensation of elected public officials in the state. The idea requires approval from Ohio voters.

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