Ohio House Passes Medicinal Marijuana Bill

Lawmakers pass bill in effort to head off ballot initiatives in November

For some sufferers of chronic and painful diseases, a new (or at least newly legal) form of relief might be on the way.

After lengthy debate, the Ohio House of Representatives today passed a bill that would legalize medical marijuana in certain, highly specific circumstances and forms.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Steven A Huffman (R-Tipp City), would allow patients suffering from 20 diseases including cancer, AIDS and epilepsy to buy and ingest the drug via a vaporizer, which converts the plant into steam instead of smoke. Plants grown for medicinal use could contain only 35 percent THC. Home growing would not be permitted, and smoking marijuana is still illegal, necessitating the other ingestion methods.

Those and a slew of other stipulations, including one that allows employers to discipline or fire employees with marijuana in their systems even if it was ingested legally, are the results of months of wrangling between lawmakers over the bill.

That drew the ire of some state lawmakers, including State Rep. Alicia Reece, a Democrat who represents Cincinnati. Reece expressed concerns that the proviso allowing employers to punish medicinal marijuana use could fall more heavily on African Americans.

Despite disagreement over details, the bill passed easily, 70-25. Even conservative Republican lawmakers wanted to pass some medicinal marijuana legislation ahead of two ballot initiatives that could come before voters in November that would legalize medicinal marijuana. But that was where the agreement ended, at least until today.

As it neared passage, the bill got much stricter and now includes requirements that patients seeking medicinal marijuana have a special state-issued ID card, limiting patients to a 90-day supply of the drug, along with other limitations.

On the other hand, some changes could create more access to the drug. Those include a provision that would find ways to help eligible military veterans afford medicinal marijuana and removing the drug from the most dangerous state drug classification to a lower, less serious one.

The bill now goes on to the state Senate, where lawmakers are expected to make further slight tweaks. Once it passes there, it will go to Ohio Gov. John Kasich’s desk. Kasich has expressed openness to giving the green light to limited legalization of medicinal marijuana. Polling in Ohio shows a large majority of citizens here favor the move.

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