CINCINNATI -- Decision makers tasked with creating Ohio’s new medical marijuana program have a hefty to-do list to tackle in 2017.
New laws hit the books in September, legalizing medical marijuana across the Buckeye State.
The law allows local governments to restrict where marijuana-related businesses can be located or ban them entirely from operating, but rules governing how many businesses will be allowed to grow, process, test and sell the drug will be written over the next two years. The full program is expected to be up and running by September 2018.
In October, a 14-member advisory board was created to oversee the rule-making process. Already, draft rules have been released for marijuana cultivation, physicians and dispensaries.
Some of the rules have patient advocates concerned.
“There has been some good news and some troubling news,” said Aaron Marshall, a spokesman for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana.
For example, Marshall said, one proposal would limit the number of dispensaries allowed to operate in Ohio to 40 – at least for the first two years of the program.
"That's not nearly enough," Marshall said. "That would work out to be about 4,700 patients per dispensary, which is far too many.”
Under the proposal, the Medical Marijuana Advisory Board would review whether more dispensaries are needed every two years, based on the state's population and patient demand.
“We know a lot of work still needs to be done, but this is definitely a concern," Marshall said.
As the New Year gets under way, here’s a look at the work still ahead and frequently asked questions about Ohio’s new medical pot laws.
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.
How can you follow the rule making?
Ohio’s new Medical Marijuana Control Program has launched website where it posts draft rules, news releases and meeting times and agendas for the advisory board.
Can the public take part in the rule making?
Yes. Written comments on the rules proposed so far are being accepted through Jan. 13, and can be submitted MMCPRules@pharmacy.ohio.gov.
The advisory board meetings, held in Columbus, are also open to the public.
Can I use medical marijuana now in Ohio?
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,” said Douglas Berman, a professor at The Ohio State University who teaches a marijuana law class.
“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.”
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 governments 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.
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?
These are the conditions included in the law. The medical board can reduce or expand upon this list.
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS/HIV)
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy
Epilepsy or another seizure disorder
Inflammatory bowel disease
Pain that is either chronic and severe or intractable
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Sickle cell anemia
Spinal cord disease or injury
Traumatic brain injury
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.