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Ohio becomes 26th state to legalize medical marijuana

• Updated Jun 15, 2016 at 1:19 PM

 This editorial appeared in The Repository, Canton (TNS):

Within two years, medical marijuana will be legal in Ohio. An effort that began in the Legislature shortly after the November general election moved swiftly, culminating last week when Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 523 into law.

Several local lawmakers played key roles in advancing the legislation, as the Rep's Robert Wang reported. State Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Jackson Township, chaired the Ohio House select committee that held nine hearings on the issue, and state Sen. Frank LaRose, R-Copley Township, provided the key vote to move the bill out of the Ohio Senate Government Oversight and Reform Committee. Other local lawmakers eventually provided their backing, with the exception of state Rep. Christina Hagan, R-Marlboro Township, who voted no.

It's rare to see a once-controversial issue move through the General Assembly at such a breakneck pace. It's a testament not only to the thorough work of both Republicans and Democrats in Columbus, but also to the several advocacy groups that aggressively pushed (or planned to push) ballot initiatives for legalization in some form or another.

What's clear is that lawmakers at last listened to proponents and polls, which show an overwhelming number of Ohioans back medical marijuana. The writing was on the wall. If Columbus wasn't going to act, the citizenry would.

The law would allow doctors under the oversight of the Ohio State Medical Board to prescribe substances derived from marijuana to treat 20 conditions. Ohioans now have an alternative treatment option for the many debilitating symptoms of conditions like Parkinson's, Alzheimer's, Crohn's and Tourette's diseases, HIV/AIDS, ALS, CTE, cancer and post-traumatic stress disorder. That list can be expanded in the future if lawmakers see fit to do so.

The state will regulate all aspects of medical marijuana, from its manufacturing to its distribution. The Ohio Board of Pharmacy will oversee the dispensaries. The Ohio Department of Commerce will oversee growers and distributors. And the Medical Board, Pharmacy Board and Department of Commerce, in conjunction with a 12-member advisory commission, would be involved in issuing regulations on medical marijuana.

As LaRose said, the law is crafted in such a way that it won't be backdoor to recreational marijuana. Smoking marijuana will remain illegal, as will growing it.

While some advocates have derided the legislation for not going far enough, tight controls are necessary as the state wades into uncharted waters. Only until the state gets its feet wet will lawmakers know what changes to the medical marijuana law need to be made.

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