An Ohio senator filed a bill that would significantly expand the state’s medical marijuana program.
Under the proposed change, doctors would be able to recommend the use of cannabis if they “reasonably” expected it would alleviate the patient’s symptoms or provide some other benefit.
Medical marijuana is currently only permitted for qualifying patients who have one or more conditions from a set list, which has been regularly added to since Ohio’s medical cannabis program launched in 2019 following its legalization in 2016.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Sen. Steve Huffman (R), wants to make patient access to medical cannabis easier but insists the main purpose of the legislation is to streamline the regulatory structure of Ohio’s medical marijuana program.
“The biggest example is the Department of Pharmacy regulates dispensaries, and the Department of Commerce regulates cultivators,” Huffman said. “So if you own one of each you have to go to each one to make business decisions.”
Through his bill, Huffman wants to create a new Division of Marijuana Control that would be based in the Commerce Department and be responsible for most of the oversight of the medical cannabis industry. The Department of Pharmacy would retain its responsibility for managing medical cannabis prescriptions.
Huffman expects the legislation would expedite the application process for medical cannabis licenses.
Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko (D) is a cosponsor of the bill, but admits it doesn’t include some provisions he would like to see, such as workers’ protections for patients who use medical marijuana.
“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.”
One other notable provision missing from Huffman’s bill concerns home cultivation of cannabis, which is currently prohibited. In the Ohio House, however, two other bills to expand the state’s medical cannabis program include provisions allowing for medical marijuana patients to grow their own plants.
Huffman’s bill is the latest in a series of moves to reform Ohio’s marijuana laws.
Voters in 14 Ohio cities will decide whether or not to decriminalize marijuana possession in their jurisdictions through local ballots at the end of this month.
For the first time in Ohio’s legislative history, a bill to legalize recreational cannabis was introduced in August, while Republican lawmakers recently filed a separate measure to allow legal marijuana sales – a sign that the issue is becoming increasingly bipartisan in the state.
Meanwhile marijuana reform activists in Ohio are closing in on the required number of signatures to qualify an adult-use legalization initiative for the 2022 ballot.