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Pot plants could be legal within a year

By Alan Johnson • May 27, 2016 at 10:00 AM

Marijuana plants could be growing legally in Ohio soil in a year, predicts state Sen. Dave Burke, an architect of Ohio's newly minted medical marijuana law.

"As soon as 16 months, you would have products tested and available," the Marysville Republican said.

House Bill 523, the medical marijuana law, completed a rocky journey through the legislature Wednesday. It is now headed to Gov. John Kasich.

Kasich has not indicated whether he will sign the bill into law. He also could veto it or allow it to take effect without his signature.

"We expect to receive a number of bills over the next couple of weeks and we're going to carefully review each one of them," Kasich spokesman Joe Andrews said. The Republican governor has expressed general support for medical marijuana, but has not addressed the specific bill.

If Kasich signs the law, it will establish an extensive, highly regulated "seed to sale" system for growing, processing, testing and dispensing marijuana for people with any of 20 specified medical diseases and conditions. Patients could receive a 90-day supply of marijuana edibles, patches, oils, and plant material. Vaporizing marijuana would be permitted, but smoking would not.

That won't happen overnight. While Burke says the system could be up and running in 16 months, other lawmakers say it will be more like two years, one year to set up the rules and another to implement them.

Things now move forward on two fronts: the state begins establishing a regulatory network, while Ohioans for Medical Marijuana continues pushing to get its own marijuana plan on the Nov. 8 ballot as a constitutional amendment.

Aaron Marshall, spokesman for the ballot issue, said the campaign will continue regardless of the state legislation. The group must file 305,591 valid signatures of registered Ohio voters by July 6 to qualify for the ballot.

Marshall said the ballot issue would get marijuana to patients as fast if not faster than the state law, especially given it would allow people to grow up to six marijuana plants in their home. The new law does not allow home-grown pot. The amendment would also allow smoking marijuana.

If the amendment passes, that generally would trump the state law.

Here's what happens next on the state front:

Three different agencies, the Ohio Department of Commerce, the Ohio Pharmacy Board, and the Ohio Medical Board, must set up rules entirely new to Ohio. The rules must then be reviewed by the Joint Committee and Agency Rule Review, a legislative panel.

Commerce will be in charge of overseeing marijuana cultivation, processing and testing. The Pharmacy Board will regulate dispensaries. The Medical Board will register doctors who prescribe medical marijuana to patients.

In addition, a new 12-member appointed committee will advise all agencies as the process moves forward.

Despite the extensive work to be done, Burke said, "A year from now, I would expected cultivator licenses to be granted and you will have plants in the ground."

Burke said the legislation does not establish specific numbers for marijuana growers, processors and dispensaries.

"We want to keep access available, but these aren't going to be McDonald’s. That was not our goal."

Marijuana could be prescribed for patients with these illnesses and conditions: HIV/AIDS; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; cancer; chronic traumatic encephalopathy; Crohn's disease; epilepsy or seizure disorder; glaucoma; hepatitis C; inflammatory bowel disease; multiple sclerosis; pain that is chronic, severe and intractable; Parkinson's disease; post-traumatic stress disorder; sickle cell anemia; spinal cord disease or injury; Tourette's syndrome; traumatic brain injury; ulcerative colitis; Alzheimer’s; and fibromyalgia.

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©2016 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

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