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Legal medical marijuana doesn't mean much for Ohio (yet)

By IVY KELLER • Sep 10, 2016 at 12:00 PM

Ohio’s House Bill 523 officially went into effect Thursday — making medical pot legal in the Buckeye state. The bill, which was passed earlier this year, comes with its fair share of complications.

Following the bill’s passage in May, the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program was created to regulate medical marijuana in the state.

Unfortunately, the program is still half-baked, according to its website. Many of the sections there simply say they’ll be filled out or decided on at a later date. Everything is only required to be finished by September 2017.

This is because the advisory committee — a panel to be assembled no later than 30 days from Sept. 8 — has yet to be formed. This is the group that will decide on many of the rules and regulations regarding medical marijuana. It must have members representing a number of different groups including patients, nurses, caregivers, employers, local law enforcement and others.

There also are neither any legal producers or dispensaries established yet nor any rules on how to establish them. Those too are under development by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy and will supposedly come in time. 

Another hurdle for patients to cross is the inability to obtain a medical marijuana license at this moment. There are no rules established for the process yet and Ohio hasn’t negotiated any reciprocal contracts with other states which have similar laws either. 

Because of these vague, unestablished spaces, HB 523 has all the practical effect of a law legalizing hovercars. Until the goods come to the table, so to speak, many Ohioans can only twiddle their thumbs and wait.

To protect medical pot users for the time being, the state has enacted legal protection for anyone with a 90-day supply. As long as they meet a few criteria, that is.

For a citizen to qualify for legal protection they must present a written statement from their doctor which shows they have:

  • a condition listed in Ohio’s medical marijuana law (subject to change at the committee’s discretion);
  • an ongoing physician-patient relationship;
  • an understanding of the risks and benefits associated with medical marijuana use;
  • a doctor’s report from Ohio’s drug database showing the other drugs prescribed to the patient within the last 12 months.

All this, of course, is after they’re already charged with possession.

The state is yet to determine exactly what equals a 90-day supply.

Norwalk Police Chief Dave Light expressed mixed feelings on the law Thursday.

“It’s going to be very complicated for us,” Light said. “I’m hoping that, if it’s going to be prescribed by a doctor, they have a legitimate use for it and they have the proper controls in place.

“Ninety-five percent are great people; it’s that 5 percent, or maybe even less, who are writing these prescriptions for pain meds like there’s no tomorrow.

“I also realize there are certain diseases that, it seems like in the research I’ve read, it helps people. There is a medical use for it. I’ve got mixed feelings on it. If it can help a cancer patient or someone with glaucoma, ... then I guess it certainly can’t be any worse than some of these super-strong painkillers that they’re dealing with or taking.”

At the moment, the law seems to create more questions than answers.

“What do employers do for people who may have a prescription? This THC stays in their system for a long period of time,” Light said — pointing out that even if medical pot is legal, employees can’t operate heavy machinery or do other dangerous work under the influence.

“There’s a lot of bugs to be worked out in this thing,” Light added.

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