Ohio Senate President won’t bring cannabis legalization bill to the floor

Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, said this week that he doesn't support an effort to legalize cannabis and won't bring it to a vote in his chamber (Source: “Proposal to legalize marijuana in Ohio faces yet another roadblock in Senate GOP leader,” Columbus Dispatch, Feb. 9).

The Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol recently submitted enough valid signatures for Ohio lawmakers to consider its proposal, which would allow Ohioans age 21 and older to buy and possess up to 2.5 ounces of cannabis and 15 grams of concentrates. They could also grow up to six plants individually and no more than 12 in a household with multiple adults.

If lawmakers don't pass the bill or pass an amended version within the next four months, supporters can collect another 132,887 valid signatures to put their measure on the ballot. "I don't want anybody to misunderstand my position," Huffman said. "I'm not going to bring it to the Senate floor. And if that means people want to go put it on the ballot, have at it."

Gov. Mike DeWine already said he would veto a bill to legalize marijuana in Ohio, calling the idea "a mistake." 

HPIO recently released a fact sheet examining lessons learned from tobacco and alcohol control policies that could inform future cannabis regulation in Ohio.

Ohio allows medical marijuana growers to expand operations

The Ohio Department of Commerce announced this week that Ohio's medical marijuana cultivators can request permission to expand their grow space (Source: “Ohio to allow medical marijuana growers to expand to meet demand, prepare for more dispensaries,” Cincinnati Enquirer, Sept. 15).

Expansion requests will be granted to businesses that have complied with rules and regulations, are already using the maximum amount of space allowed by the state and demonstrate a need to expand to keep up with demand.

The expansion process comes as the state plans to more than double the number of dispensaries to sell medical marijuana and after Akron-based cultivator Fire Rock Ltd. sued the state for failing to act on its February 2020 request to expand.

Ohio has licensed 20 cultivators who can grow up to 25,000 square feet of marijuana and 15 cultivators that can grow up to 3,000 square feet. State rules allow licensees to expand to 75,000 square feet and 9,000 square feet, respectively, but didn't outline a process for requesting expansion.

Judge strikes down minority quota for Ohio marijuana dispensary licenses

A Madison County judge has struck down a state law granting minority-owned medical marijuana businesses a leg up during the competitive licensing process (Source: “Ohio medical marijuana: Minority quota for dispensary licenses struck down,” Cincinnati Enquirer, Nov. 7, 2019).

The ruling against Ohio's "racial quota" is the latest blow to state lawmakers' attempt at making the industry more diverse. It could lead to more dispensary licenses being issued beyond the current total of 56 statewide.

Ohio's 2016 medical marijuana law required 15% of all licenses to grow, process and sell marijuana be awarded to companies majority-owned and operated by a racial minority. A Franklin County judge struck down the provision as it applied to cultivators and processors in November 2018.

This week's ruling applies to dispensaries, which are regulated by the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy. A board spokeswoman said the agency is still reviewing the judge’s ruling and determining next steps.

Medical Board rejects medical marijuana for autism, anxiety

The State Medical Board of Ohio this week opted against allowing Ohio medical marijuana for people who suffer from anxiety and autism spectrum disorder  (Source: “Board rejects Ohio medical marijuana for autism and anxiety, sides with traditional medicine,” Associated Press via Cleveland Plain Dealer, Sept. 11, 2019).

The public will get another shot at trying to add ailments to the list of qualifying conditions when the next window for petitions opens, Nov. 1 through Dec. 31, said Dr. Michael Schottenstein, president of the medical board.

However, Schottenstein has also said that once a condition is added to the list, it cannot be removed. That’s the medical board’s reading of the state’s medical marijuana law.

The board hasn’t asked the legislature to change or clarify the law to give it the power to remove a condition once cannabis is proven ineffective or harmful for it.

Board rejects plan to use medical marijuana to treat opioid addiction

Citing a lack of scientific proof, the state’s medical board on Wednesday voted against allowing doctors to recommend marijuana to treat opioid use disorder (Source: “Board rejects marijuana as treatment for depression and insomnia,” Columbus Dispatch, June 12, 2019).

Board members said they reviewed hundreds of pages of research and heard from expert witnesses but did not find conclusive evidence that cannabis can help opioid addicts manage their cravings.

“I think we’re all desperate to find a way to resolve the opiate crisis, and we’ve had a lot of communication with folks who support (using cannabis to treat opioid addiction), and we’re sympathetic to that position,” said board member Betty Montgomery. “But this is a science-based board. And the last thing we want to do is grasp at something to solve this crisis that may exacerbate it in a way that we’re not aware of because we don’t have the science behind it.”

The board also voted against allowing doctors to recommend marijuana to treat depression and insomnia and tabled a recommendation to allow medical marijuana to treat anxiety and autism in order to allow two new board members to review the recommendation.

Medical marijuana patient registry triples in second month

New patient registry information released Thursday by state officials shows more than 10,000 people have been recommended marijuana for pain that is chronic and severe or cannot be treated with other medicines (Source: “Chronic pain driving registrations for medical marijuana in Ohio,” Cincinnati Enquirer, Feb. 7, 2019).

As of Thursday, 12,873 individuals were issued patient registry ID cards since the registry went live on Dec. 3, according to data released Thursday at an Ohio Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee meeting. That is three times as many as were registered after the first month.

Another 4,204 patients have been recommended medical marijuana by a state-certified physician but have not completed the registration process. For comparison, Pennsylvania, which has a similar list of qualifying medical conditions, issued just 7,000 patients registry cards five months after its registry opened.

Chronic pain was the top qualifying condition (10,910 patients). That was followed by post-traumatic stress disorder (2,622 patients) and fibromyalgia (1,973 patients).

State considers adding six conditions to medical marijuana list

As Ohio prepares for its first legal sale of marijuana in the coming weeks, a state committee has identified six additional conditions that could be added to the list eligible for medical marijuana (Source: “Medical marijuana: Opioid addiction, autism, four other ailments to get more study as qualifying conditions,” Cincinnati Enquirer, Jan. 9, 2019).

Ohio law set 21 qualifying conditions for patients to get medical marijuana, but opens an annual window for suggestions to add to the list. In November and December, Ohioans submitted 110 petitions suggesting a wide spectrum of conditions. Opioid addiction, autism, general anxiety, chronic anxiety, depression and insomnia were selected Wednesday by a committee of the Ohio State Medical Board for more study as potential qualifying conditions for medical marijuana.

The committee will consult with medical specialists as well as experts in other medical marijuana programs and is expected to make recommendations to the full Medical Board by June 30.

State opens patient registry for medical marijuana

The state medical board told physicians Monday they can now register patients with one of 21 qualifying medical conditions and their caregivers through Ohio's online registration system (Source: “Ohio medical marijuana: Patient registry opens in anticipation of first sales,” Cincinnati Enquirer, Dec. 3, 2018).

For thousands of Ohioans, the registry opening marks the end of years of waiting for the state's medical marijuana program to start. And it means dispensaries will open soon.

The registry was supposed to open in July but was put on hold because state-licensed growers were still several months away from their first harvests. The Ohio Board of Pharmacy, which operates the registry, said it would not allow patients and caregivers to register any earlier than 60 days before product is available for sale. 

Small amounts of medical marijuana could be available in Ohio next month

Small amounts of medical marijuana should be available in Ohio before the end of the year, according to state officials (Source: “Medical marijuana could be available in Ohio by year’s end,” Akron Beacon Journal, Nov. 11, 2018).

The state’s first harvest of cannabis plants, at few small growers, should be through processing and testing sometime next month, said Kerry Francis, spokeswoman for the Department of Commerce. The department, which oversees the state’s new medical marijuana program, had hoped to have some cannabis available this month, but testing labs, which will confirm a product’s potency and check for contamination, have yet to be certified.

Labs should be inspected by mid-December, Francis said.

“We expect to have some very limited amounts [of cannabis], maybe enough for a few hundred patients, available by the end of the year,” she said.

Which dispensaries will receive marijuana and how much is available is not yet known, Francis said. The state hopes to have a clearer picture of that next month.