The Ohio House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on a proposal Tuesday to legalize medical marijuana. HB 523, sponsored by Rep. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, would allow doctors to prescribe marijuana for their patients in solid or liquid form.

Medical marijuana bill up for vote Tuesday

The Ohio House of Representatives will vote Tuesday on a revised bill that would allow physicians to prescribe marijuana for medical use — a development that some observers say would have been unthinkable just 12 months ago when most Ohio lawmakers steadfastly eschewed the idea.

The bill, scheduled for a vote at 11 a.m., would allow smoke-free forms of marijuana, including vapor, edibles, ingestible oils and tinctures, to be used to treat a variety of ailments, ranging from chronic pain to gastrointestinal distress.

If approved, Ohio would become the 25th state with a medical marijuana law on its books.

But at least one group pushing for a medical marijuana constitutional amendment in Ohio says the House bill is too restrictive and doesn’t go far enough to help those in need.

“We don’t support their legislation,” said Aaron Marshall, a spokesman for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana (OMM) and its national partner, the Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), which plan to put a medical-only amendment on the November ballot in Ohio. “It imposes hardships on patients, and it’s filled with red tape that ties doctors’ hands.”

Among the restrictions, patients would be required to visit a licensed physician twice within 90 days — once for evaluation, and once for follow-up orders — before they could get approval to purchase marijuana, Marshall said. Doctors, in turn, would be required to fill out reams of paperwork for each of those patients, which is likely to prevent many of them from participating, he said.

Perhaps the biggest gripe of those opposed to the House bill is that it could take up to two years to implement.

“We’re not going to let the House bill slow down our momentum,” said Marshall, whose group is trying to gather nearly 306,000 valid signatures of registered voters by July 6 to submit to qualify for the Nov. 8 ballot.

State Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, chairman of the Select Committee on Medical Marijuana, said rushing into any new marijuana legislation would be a recipe for disaster.

“This bill would create a whole new regulatory system, and a whole new type of business in Ohio,” Schuring said. “It just naturally takes time to do it right. In other states, where they have rushed into this and not taken the time to do it right, they’ve had many experiences where it has caused confusion and delay and has actually hurt the patients wanting to utilize medical marijuana.”

He said the House measure strikes a “good balance” of providing access for consumers and protecting their safety.

“The bill is the product of almost 40 hours of testimony from over 100 people from all across the state of Ohio and all across the United States,” he said. “We feel the bill, and the way it’s constructed, will make sure that people who want access to medical marijuana can get access to it through their physicians, and we have a system that we feel will ensure…the process will be safe and efficacious.”

Schuring said he’s confident the bill will pass the House and move seamlessly onto the Senate floor, where Sen. David Burke, R-Marysville is leading the medical marijuana initiative.

“I feel good about the working relationship we have with the Senate, and I look forward to continuing to interact with them as they take up the bill when we send it over there after the House vote,” Shuring said.

In the meantime, the use of marijuana, even for medical purposes, will remain illegal, despite widespread support.

While Ohio voters resoundingly rejected a proposed constitutional amendment to legalize marijuana for recreational use last November, polls show as many as nine in 10 Ohioans support its use for medical purposes.

“I’m not surprised that there is this wide support for medical marijuana because frankly it shows up in the polling, and it shows up when I’m out talking to people,” Marshall said. “I meet person after person who has someone in their family or a friend or co-worker who can be helped with medical marijuana.”

Reporter Laura A. Bischoff contributed to this story.

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