Hamilton lawmaker’s bill would allow medication derived from marijuana

Ohio Reps. Wes Retherford, R-Hamilton, and John M. Rogers, D-Mentor-On-The-Lake, are the primary sponsors of House Bill 33, which would allow Ohio physicians to prescribe a specific oil infused with cannabidiol, a non-psychoactive chemical in cannabis and low in tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, the chemical that produces a high in users. Seizure patients could then legally possess this extract and participate in clinical trials.

Through this legislation, the drug would be available to doctors at University of Cincinnati Medical Center, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center, Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center, Nationwide Children’s Hospital in Columbus, University Hospitals Case Medical Center in Cleveland, and Rainbow Babies and Children’s Hospital in Cleveland.

Dr. Michael Privitera, a neurologist and director of the Epilepsy Center at the University of Cincinnati Neuroscience Institute, said he has patients ask him at least once a day about medical marijuana. He said more than 2 million Americans have epilepsy.

“We support research; there are many people with bad epilepsy that need new treatments,” Privitera said.

But he said it’s too early to say if the treatment option will be feasible long term. Privitera said it will take a lot of research, clinical trials and risk-benefit analysis before that is determined.

Privitera said research will determine how well the drug works as a treatment option, for which types of seizures it is most effective, and what the side effects are.

“There’s not good research yet,” Privitera said. “It could be a very important treatment for people with epilepsy … but it’s not a proven treatment yet.”

Privitera said it’s also difficult for medical professionals to conduct research on the drug as it’s still a Schedule 1 drug by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

“We want the DEA to lower the schedule so we can research it,” Privitera said.

Retherford said that while he is still opposed to full marijuana legislation, he supports this bill because it would restrict the use of the chemical to university and children’s hospitals in Ohio for the purpose of research and treatment of seizures.

“The research and studies I’ve talked with people about show there is potential with cannabidiol for making life better for people who suffer from debilitating diseases such as epilepsy,” Retherford said.

Retherford said he still opposes legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes and the commercial sale of medical marijuana, as proposed by several legalization advocates. One such group, Responsible Ohio, has proposed a constitutional amendment that would name just 10 sites for growing marijuana.

“I especially disagree with not only the concept of medical marijuana (sales), but (proposed legislation by) Responsible Ohio also establishes a constitutional monopoly, which I am also opposed to,” Retherford said.

Retherford’s House district includes the city of Hamilton in Butler County, which recently proposed an ordinance change that would ban medical marijuana sales within the municipality. Retherford said that such legislation was “completely within the city’s prerogatives” and did not see it conflicting with his proposed legislation.

“None of the university and children’s hospitals impacted are within the city limits, so it wouldn’t impact my bill,” he said.

A public hearing and first reading for Hamilton’s proposed legislation, which would ban medical marijuana sales in all of the city’s zoning districts, is scheduled for the Feb. 11 City Council meeting. Hamilton’s seven council members are expected to hear a second reading and vote upon the legislation at the Feb. 25 City Council meeting.

House Bill 33 has yet to be assigned to a committee as of Wednesday, but a copy of the legislation can be viewed at www.legislature.ohio.gov.

Staff Writer Hannah Poturalski contributed to this report.

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Staff writers Hannah Poturalski and Michael D. Pitman contributed to this report.