After more than twenty years of repeated attempts, the Ohio House has overwhelmingly approved a historic bill that would allow regulated medical marijuana in the Buckeye State.
The sponsor of the bill, Republican Representative Steve Huffman, says it's the result of work done by a task force of lawmakers, community leaders, health experts and patient advocates.
“We had 23 hours of testimony from over 100 witnesses in the task force.”
Huffman, a physician himself, says the testimony at those meetings was compelling. Those testifying in favor of the idea said they know, based on experience in other states, that medical marijuana will help with severe pain, cancer side effects, constant seizures and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Huffman says he agrees.
“I am absolutely convinced there is therapeutic value in medical marijuana. There is no doubt in my mind.”
Democratic Representative Dan Ramos agreed he feels this bill can help patients. The bill sets up a commission that will oversee the regulation, licensing and distribution of medical marijuana and sets strict rules for doctors who choose to recommend it for their patients. Some patient groups say those rules are too restrictive….but Ramos says the fact that no one likes every part of the bill is a good sign.
"This is one of those situations where every one of us, all 99 of us, could find something in this bill, myself included say well, if I was doing this or if I was the king, and I was this or that, I would have done this this way instead of that way. “
Still, some lawmakers had a hard time reconciling their thoughts to come up with a vote for the measure. Democratic Representative Alicia Reese, who says her late mother might have benefitted from medical cannabis, voted against it.
“This is one of the hardest votes I’ve had since I’ve been in the General Assembly.”
Reese says her mother was also an advocate for social justice. And Reese cited a study by the ACLU of Ohio a couple of years ago that makes the case that this bill doesn’t address that issue.
“We’ve got 48% of all arrests in 2010 in Ohio was for possession of marijuana. The cost was $120 million in the state of Ohio. Every 37 seconds, someone was being arrested for marijuana. We had over 10,000 arrests and citations every year. And the majority of those folks were African American. And so when we were looking at this issue, and I know we said we just want to look at just this one part of the issue, but I looked at my mother, Barbara Reese, who couldn’t be just one part of the issue. She was someone suffering with pain and certainly would be looking at this issue but she also had a pain of seeing so many young people who looked like her who were being arrested. And they’ll still be arrested if I pass this bill today.”
But a group that wants to put a constitutional amendment before voters this fall says this bill falls short. The Marijuana Policy Project has a proposal to more broadly legalize marijuana, including allowing smoking and home-growing of the plant, which this bill doesn't permit. Spokesman Aaron Marshall said this house passed bill will do little for patients in Ohio.
“It’s disappointing that lawmakers couldn’t have made history with a substantive and meaningful medical marijuana bill. Today’s vote will only bring empty promises suffering from debilitating conditions who need medical marijuana. Patients will be forced to wait two years under this plan for a limited and restrictive system that ties doctors’ hands with red tape.”
Marshall says the House plan is too narrow and restrictive to get the job done. So he says his group continues to gather the more than 305,000 valid petition signatures needed by July 6th to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the ballot this fall. This bill now goes to the Senate where lawmakers have also been studying the medical marijuana issue, holding town halls around Ohio. Senate President Keith Faber said a few weeks ago that his Republican caucus was divided on the issue.