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Medical marijuana 101: What's legal, what's not and what's ahead

Medical marijuana 101: What's legal, what's not
Posted at 6:00 AM, Sep 06, 2016
and last updated 2016-12-16 12:57:26-05

CINCINNATI - New laws hit the books in Ohio in September legalizing medical marijuana, raising a host of questions for consumers, business owners and doctors across the region.

So what exactly has changed?

“Not much,” said Douglas Berman, a professor at The Ohio State University who teaches a marijuana law class.

“People who are eager to believe that now a whole lot more stuff is going to be legal in Ohio should tread cautiously,” Berman said. “This drug is still federally illegal, and someone who thinks they can drive up to Michigan and buy a whole bunch of medical marijuana and start selling it in Ohio – they’re probably going to get the feds' attention.”

While Ohio’s law does establish an “affirmative defense” for patients who have a qualifying medical condition and written permission from their doctor, rules still haven’t been written for where medical pot can be legally grown and purchased in the state.

“The important thing to remember is this (affirmative defense) doesn’t mean you can’t be prosecuted,” Berman said. “It just means if you are, this is the defense you can use in court to ask a judge to dismiss the complaint. It doesn’t mean you avoid the hassle of the courts.”

Under the law, Ohio’s new medical marijuana program will be developed through nearly two years of rule making by various state departments that will determine who can grow the drug, process it, test it and sell it to consumers. 

If all goes as planned, lawmakers say the full program should be up and running by 2018.

Here’s a look frequently asked questions about what exactly is legal, what’s not and what’s ahead:

Can I be fired from my job for using medical marijuana?

Yes.

Because marijuana is still federally illegal, courts have continued to uphold employers' rights to fire employees who use drugs, including marijuana.

Ohio’s law also explicitly says that employees can be fired for using marijuana in spite of having a doctor’s recommendation. Any employee fired for using medical marijuana is not eligible for Ohio’s unemployment compensation.

Will marijuana be sold in my neighborhood?

That depends. The law allows local government to restrict where marijuana-related businesses can be located or ban them entirely from operating.

The law also sets a rule that requires all marijuana businesses to be at least 500 feet away from schools, playgrounds, public libraries and churches.

File photo

If Medical Business Daily’s projections are correct, Ohio could generate between $11.5 million and $23 million in annual state tax revenue through the sale of medical marijuana.

What conditions qualify for medical marijuana use?

Here are the conditions included in the law. The medical board can reduce or expand upon this list.

  • Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS/HIV)
  • Alzheimer's disease
  • Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
  • Cancer
  • Chronic traumatic encephalopathy
  • Crohn's disease
  • Epilepsy or another seizure disorder
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Glaucoma
  • Hepatitis C
  • Inflammatory bowel disease
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Pain that is either chronic and severe or intractable
  • Parkinson's disease
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Sickle cell anemia
  • Spinal cord disease or injury
  • Tourette's syndrome
  • Traumatic brain injury
  • Ulcerative colitis.

Can I grow my own medical marijuana legally?

No. 

As legislators debated the law, many argued that growing marijuana outside of regulated facilities paved the path toward allowing recreational use. Of the 25 states where marijuana is legal, 15 allow patients and their caregivers to grow their own.

Will I be able to smoke medical marijuana?

No.

The law prohibits smoking or any “combustion” of marijuana, as well as any form of the drug that is “attractive to children."

Vaporization of the drug will be permitted, along with any other methods approved by the Ohio’s pharmacy board.

How will this be regulated?

Three state agencies will oversee the new program. They include:

  • Ohio's Department of Commerce, which will be in charge of licenses and compliance of cultivators, processors and testing labs
  • Ohio's Medical Board, which will certify physicians who recommend marijuana to patients
  • Ohio's Pharmacy Board, which will oversee patient registration and licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries. Under the law, epilepsy, cancer, chronic pain and Alzheimer’s Disease are among the list of more than 20 conditions that would qualify patients for medical marijuana use.

What’s next?

Here’s breakdown of the law’s deadlines over the next two years: