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Ohio senators mulling major revisions to medical marijuana system

It’s a potentially massive expansion of eligibility for patients after years of piecemeal additions to the list of qualifying conditions.
Credit: AP Photo/Tony Dejak
Marijuana plants are ready for harvest at AT-Calyx Peak Companies of Ohio, Monday, Jan. 28, 2019, in Akron, Ohio.

COLUMBUS, Ohio — 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.”

Read more from the Ohio Capital Journal

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