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Ohio Lawmakers File Medical Cannabis Revamp Bill

Two Republican state lawmakers in Ohio have introduced a bill to revamp the state’s medical marijuana laws that would create a new state agency to oversee the program and allow more patients to use cannabis medicinally. State Senators Steve Huffman (Senate Bill 9) introduced the measure on January 11. It was then referred to a legislative panel for consideration on Tuesday. This bill is very similar to Senate Bill 261, which was passed in the Senate in Dec 2021. 

Both pieces of legislation attempt to update Ohio’s medical marijuana law, which was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law in 2016. Under the new bill, a new state agency, the Division of Marijuana Control, would be created as part of the Ohio Department of Commerce to regulate the state’s medical marijuana program. This legislation creates a commission of 13 members to supervise the operation and oversight of both the new agency as well the program. Under current law, the state’s medical marijuana program is overseen by the Ohio Department of Commerce, the State Medical Board of Ohio and the Ohio Board of Pharmacy. 

“What we’ve found is that many of the growers want to expand and grow more,” Huffman said in a statement quoted by local media. “There’s more growers, there’s more demand. It took them 18 months to submit a request at the Department of Commerce. The application remained there for two years. Hopefully this takes the bureaucracy out of this and streamlines things and make it a better-functioning industry.”

Ohio Bill adds Qualifying Conditions

Senate Bill 9 would also add autism spectrum disorder, arthritis, migraines, chronic muscle spasms and opioid use disorder to the state’s list of medical conditions that qualify a patient to use cannabis medicinally. Currently, the list of qualifying conditions includes more than two dozen serious medical conditions including cancer, chronic pain, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, PTSD and terminal illnesses.

This measure allows patients with debilitating conditions to use medicinal marijuana. The earlier bill had a similar provision, allowing patients to use medical cannabis if a doctor decides that “the patient’s symptoms may reasonably be expected to be relieved from medical marijuana.”

Huffman and Schuring spoke out at a Tuesday committee hearing about Senate Bill 9. They said that Ohio medical marijuana patients often cross state borders to purchase cannabis in neighboring states. As of Januray 1, ore than half of the more than 320,000 patients who have registered in the history of Ohio’s medical marijuana program, only about 164,000 had an active doctor’s recommendation and patient registration, according to information from state regulators.

“The largest dispenser for Ohioans is in Michigan,” Huffman said in testimony Tuesday. “We need to turn that around, and make it more friendly, so people come here and they have a safe, viable product.”

Senate Bill 261 also would have allowed the state’s licensed medical marijuana cultivators to expand their growing operations. Huffman indicated that while the amendments to the current bill do not include the ability to increase cultivation space, but he said he would be open to amending it to provide the additional growing area.

“In my discussions with Sen. Schuring, we felt this would be a positive move and positive change for the industry,” Huffman said. “At the same time hopefully members of the House will be comfortable with it.”

Recreational Marijuana Proposal Under Consideration

Ohio legislators also consider a bill to legalize recreational cannabis in the state. The proposal was reintroduced by Secretary of State Frank LaRose earlier this month. It would allow adults over 21 to use marijuana and place a 10% tax upon commercial cannabis products. Although activists had expected the measure to appear on the November midterm elections ballot, delays caused by legal problems led to an agreement among state officials that the issue would be re-examined this year. The Coalition To Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol can get signatures from the public to present the proposition to the voters in the fall, if it is not approved by the state legislature within four months.

Despite the adult-use cannabis legalization bill, Huffman, who is a physician, said that he is still interested in improving the state’s medical marijuana program. If recreational marijuana is legalized, he said it would create an environment without “much of a medical marijuana industry.”

“This bill, to me, is not so much about the ballot initiative, but to make the industry as best as we can,” Huffman said.

Trent Woloveck, the chief strategy officer of Jushi, a vertically integrated, multistate cannabis operator that last week opened Beyond Hello Cincinnati, the company’s first medical marijuana dispensary in Ohio, called on state lawmakers to approve Senate Bill 9 in a statement to Chronic News.

“If passed, SB 9 will make safe, tested medical cannabis products accessible to more Ohioans by expanding qualifying conditions, authorizing additional administration forms and codifying mechanisms to allow responsible, incremental industry growth,” said Woloveck. “Ultimately, the changes proposed in SB 9 will facilitate a stable supply chain, reduce product prices and generally benefit Ohio patients.”

Senate Bill 9 was referred to Senate General Government Committee. The Republican panel chair, Senator Michael Rulli said Tuesday that they would swiftly move the bill through the committee.