A group of Ohio lawmakers on Wednesday announced they would seek to pass medical marijuana legislation this year. The move, which follows the conclusion of a task force the legislators set up to study the issue, comes as advocates are collecting signatures to place a medical cannabis initiative on the state’s November ballot.
The bill, which is expected to be introduced in the House of Representatives this week, is said to allow Ohio-licensed doctors to recommend medical cannabis to patients for any condition, according to Jackie Borchardt of Cleveland.com. The Ohio Department of Health would form a task force to set rules and regulations for the legal supply of the drug. Home cultivation would not be allowed. The legislation will also call on the federal government to reschedule marijuana.
The Marijuana Policy Project (MPP), a national organization, is heading up the ballot effort. They announced earlier this year that they would not wait for legislators, who have delayed acting on the issue for years, to come up with a proposal.
“We remain committed to giving Ohio voters the opportunity to adopt the most effective and well-written medical marijuana law possible,” Mason Tvert, MPP’s communications director, told Marijuana.com in an email following the lawmakers’ announcement.
While commending the move, Tvert pledged that his group would move forward with the ballot initiative.
“It would be foolish to assume the legislature, which has failed to act on this issue for years, will actually pass a good medical marijuana bill in a matter of months,” he said. “We also don’t know what their proposal will end up looking like, whereas we’re confident that the measure we’re proposing is very tightly worded and will produce a sensible, fair, and compassionate medical marijuana program.”
Last year, Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot measure to legalize marijuana for both medical and recreational use. The defeated initiative, known as Issue 3, turned off many legalization supporters by including provisions granting the very funders who paid to put it on the ballot exclusive rights to commercially cultivate cannabis. The campaign also angered national advocates by using a marijuana superhero mascot as a prop, stoking concerns about marketing to children.
The new MPP-backed measure, if passed by voters, would allow patients with doctors’ recommendations to purchase medical marijuana from licensed dispensaries. They would also be authorized to grow their own cannabis at home. Unlike the reported House bill, though, the measure proposes a list of specific medical conditions for which doctors can recommend marijuana instead of leaving the decision completely up to medical professionals. A state regulatory body would, however, be able to approve new conditions.
Organizers need to collect 305,591 valid signatures from registered Ohio voters in order to qualify the measure for November’s ballot.
A separate group of local activists are also seeking to put a different medical cannabis and industrial hemp initiative before voters, but they do not yet appear to have the kind of funding or track record of qualifying and passing ballot measures that MPP has built up.
Elsewhere, a medical cannabis initiative has already qualified for Florida’s ballot, and advocates in Arkansas and Missouri could also succeed in securing similar measures. An additional five or more states could vote on legalizing and regulating marijuana for adults over 21 years of age.
MPP’s Tvert said that going directly to voters at the ballot box would lead to a better outcome than letting lawmakers take the lead.
“Far too many legislatures have passed flawed or inadequate medical marijuana laws that leave too many patients behind or fail to meet their needs,” he said. “Lawmakers often dislike initiatives and assume they could draft better laws, but with all due respect, they’ve spent a couple months looking at this issue and we’ve been focusing on it for a couple decades.”
Photo Courtesy of Maxim Apryatin