Pot bill moves forward, group seeks ballot spot

Posted at 5:23 PM, May 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-11 17:59:53-04

COLUMBUS, Ohio - The Ohio House has passed a proposal to legalize medical marijuana in the state.

The fast-tracked bill would bar patients from smoking the substance but allow them to use it in vapor form. They couldn't grow it at home.

Under the legislation, a nine-member Medical Marijuana Control Commission would set rules for cultivating, distributing and licensing cannabis. Communities could opt out of hosting dispensaries. Employers who want to maintain drug-free workplaces would be protected from liability.

The bill passed on a 71-26 vote Tuesday. The Senate plans to begin hearings on the measure Wednesday.

House leaders said they expect the legislation to reach to the governor's desk by the end of May.

Lawmakers are seeking to head off a proposed November ballot issue supported by the national medical marijuana movement. State Rep. Alicia Reece (D-Cincinnati) said she opposed the bill partly for that reason.

“I was concerned that this bill was a smokescreen to just stop the people from having a chance to vote on it,” Reece said. “Second, the medical marijuana industry is a million dollar industry and we wanted to make sure that we aren’t having people going to jail and losing jobs while at the same time others making billions of dollars.”

Ohioans For Medical Marijuana, a grassroots organization, is hoping they can get an initiative to legalize the drug with fewer restrictions than the bill proposed by lawmakers.

Ian Schwartz is an Air Force veteran who suffers from chronic spinal pain, which he believes could be minimized with medical marijuana.

“The initiative, if it is passed, in November will immediately take effect. Comparatively, that is the preferred option for payments,” he said.

However, Schwartz said he was concerned the ban on home growing could result in “outrageous” prices for patients.

The competing initiative needs more than 300,000 signatures to reach the ballot in November.