UPDATE @ 11:35 a.m. (May 11)
Less than 24 hours after a controversial plan to legalize medical marijuana passed the Ohio House of Representatives it moved to the State Senate Wednesday.
Sponsor Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, assured committee members at its first Senate hearing that there are enough protections in the bill to prevent abuse.
Senate committee chairman Bill Coley, R-Liberty Township, said hearings on the bill will continue next week.
The bill would make it legal for a doctor to recommend marijuana to a patient. The patient would be able to buy it in solid and liquid form from a state designated outlet.
The push to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio took a historic step forward on Tuesday when the House voted 70-25 in favor of a bill that would authorize doctors to recommend pot use to their patients.
The House-backed plan would not allow home grow or smoking medical marijuana, would let local jurisdictions block it from their communities, would require physicians to make regular reports on who is using it and for what conditions, and let employers fire patients who use medical pot — and deny them unemployment benefits.
“It’s discrimminatory. As a matter of fact, it’s a cruel joke,” said state Rep. Teresa Fedor, D-Toledo, of the penalties that workers may face.
The bill would set up a Medical Marijuana Control Commission, appointed by the governor and overseen by the state Department of Commerce, to regulate and license growers and dispensaries in the new industry.
The bill’s passage would have been unthinkable just 12 months ago. Even as 24 other states adopted medical marijuana programs, Ohio lawmakers have steadfastly resisted the idea — until now.
Last year, ResponsibleOhio put a proposed constitutional amendment on the statewide ballot that would have legalized marijuana for both medical and recreational use and grant exclusive growing rights to the 10 investor groups bankrolling the campaign. Voters soundly rejected the proposal. But polls showed that between 80- and 90-percent of Ohioans favor legalizing medical marijuana.
That public support — as well as the specter of voters approving some future constitutional amendment for weed — led lawmakers to take up the matter seriously and swiftly.
Still, Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, a group with national backing from the Marijuana Policy Project, doesn’t like the bill.
“The latest version fails to address the critical flaws in the bill that significantly restrict patient access,” said Aaron Marshall, spokesman for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana. “Very few doctors will be willing to enter into a system that doesn’t trust them to make decisions that are in the best interest of their patients and ties their hands with regulatory red tape. With so few doctors participating, patients will not have access to the medicine they need.”
Marshall said a similar provision in New York led to just 556 of the state’s 90,000 doctors agreeing to see medical marijuana patients.
OMM aims to collect 306,000 valid voter signatures by July 6 to put its constitutional amendment before voters in the fall.
Lawmakers on both sides of the aisle acknowledged that the bill isn’t perfect but they noted it can be fixed later because it’ll be in state law — not carved into the Ohio Constitution.
The bill still needs approval by the Ohio Senate and signature by Gov. John Kasich.
Recently, Kasich has said he opposes legalizing marijuana for recreational purposes but he is open to looking at a medical marijuana program.