Medical Marijuana Advocates Question The Makeup Of New Task Force

Jan 15, 2016

Some long time advocates of medical marijuana are questioning why they were not included in the Ohio House’s new task force to study the subject.

The task force includes both Republican and Democratic lawmakers. It also includes some of the key people who were instrumental in the defeat of the attempt last fall to legalize marijuana in Ohio….people such as former Attorney General Betty Montgomery and groups from the medical, business and law enforcement communities. The panel also includes two men who represented the investors who put up $25 million to fund Issue 3, which voters rejected last fall. They say the group that called itself ResponsibleOhio is gone, and won’t try to put any more marijuana related issues before voters. But Cher Neufer with Ohio NORML is concerned about who isn’t included on that panel.

“The panel does not appear to include patients or any patient advocacy group.”

Mary Jane Borden speaks about the need for medical marijuana last fall
Credit Jo Ingles

Neufer, a founder of Ohio NORML, has worked with mostly Democratic lawmakers in attempts to legalize medical marijuana in the past. But she says no one from her group was asked to work on this task force. She wonders why. And she’s not alone. Mary Jane Borden with the Ohio Rights Group has also been pushing for medical marijuana legislation and ballot issues for 30 years. And for some of those years, she worked in the pharmaceutical industry, where she gained important knowledge about medical marijuana.

“I understand the marketing of pharmaceutical drugs. We were working on phase 3 clinical trials globally in 1989, I think, we were working on that project. We took a look at all of the phase 3 trials globally so that’s the type of the body of knowledge that I was able to garner in my nine years at Adria Laboratories so I would say I know the pharmaceutical industry soup to nuts.”

Borden says she wasn’t asked to be part of the task force but says if they would like her expertise, she’d be glad to help.

Athens lawyer Don Wirtshafter worked with medical trials and growing cannabis for medical use in Europe back in the 1990’s. He’s been working with medical marijuana and the overall legalization movement for forty years. He says it’s not enough to just put the fundraisers for the most recent failed marijuana ballot issue on the task force. Wirtshafter says it takes years to really understand the ins and outs of medical marijuana and adds there isn’t anyone on the task force with that experience.

“I’m really worried that the task force is just a duck by the legislature. They need to get serious and get some real medical professionals to advise them what is needed for Ohio to catch up with the world with this important medical innovation.”

NORML’s Neufer says she personally thinks the legislature might be leaning toward legalizing only certain types of medical marijuana that are largely ineffective. She says it’s important to allow patients access to the actual plants that work for their illnesses.

“The only way to do that really is to use the plant and the different variety of plants that are good for certain conditions, whether it be pain, whether it be glaucoma.”

Ohio House Representative Steve Huffman
Credit Ohio House of Representatives

Republican Representative Steve Huffman, a physician himself, is on the task force. He says there are at least two products that are being used in Europe that will likely soon be approved for use here. And he says those will be considered. And he says the task force will be working with many researchers, including some who are coming up with new innovations here in Ohio.

“They are doing a lot of research in Cincinnati. I’ve spoken to that physician. And I know Kirk Schuring went out to Nationwide Children’s and they are doing research on different forms. There are 500 chemicals in marijuana and it’s extracting those ones that have some effect in medicine and I think we will hear from a lot of people and see what we think is best.”

Huffman says there’s no reason to expand the task force at this point.

“I am satisfied the way it is now and I’m sure Chairman Schuring will give ample opportunity for those people who represent those organizations to voice their opinion in whatever direction they feel the task force should go in so I think they will be well represented in the discussions as we hear testimony.”

The task force will be holding several public meetings during the next few months and House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger says he wants a report from the panel by the end of March. In the meantime, the Ohio Senate will be conducting town halls throughout the state to let Ohioans voice their concerns about medical marijuana.