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Ohio House Approves Medical Marijuana Bill

The Ohio House has passed a bill to legalize medical marijuana. The fast-tracked bill prohibits patients from smoking the substance but allows them to use it in vapor form.  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 Ohio Senate plans to begin hearings  on the measure today with the goal of getting the measure to the governor's  desk by the end of the month. Lawmakers are seeking to head off a proposed November ballot issue supported  by the national medical marijuana movement. More from Ohio Public Radio's Jo Ingles.

The sponsor of the bill, Republican Representative Steve Huffman, says it's the
result of work done by a task force of lawmakers, community leaders, health experts
and patient advocates.
 
"We had 23 hours of testimony from over 100 witnesses in the task force."
 
Huffman, a physician himself, says the testimony at those meetings was compelling.
Those testifying in favor of the idea said they know, based on experience in other
states, that medical marijuana will help with severe pain, cancer side effects,
constant seizures and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Huffman says he agrees.
 
"I am absolutely convinced there is therapeutic value in medical marijuana. There is
no doubt in my mind."
 
Democratic Representative Dan Ramos agreed he feels this bill can help patients. The
bill sets up a commission that will oversee the regulation, licensing and
distribution of medical marijuana and sets strict rules for doctors who choose to
recommend it for their patients. Some patient groups say those rules are too
restrictive....but Ramos says the fact that no one likes every part of the bill is a
good sign.
 
"This is one of those situations where every one of us, all 99 of us, could find
something in this bill, myself included say well, if I was doing this or if I was
the king, and I was this or that, I would have done this this way instead of that
way. "
 
Still, some lawmakers had a hard time reconciling their thoughts to come up with a
vote for the measure. Democratic Representative Alicia Reese, who says her late
mother might have benefitted from medical cannabis, voted against it.
 
"This is one of the hardest votes I've had since I've been in the General Assembly."
 
Reese says her mother was also an advocate for social justice. And Reese cited a
study by the ACLU of Ohio a couple of years ago that makes the case that this bill
doesn't address that issue.
 
"We've got 48% of all arrests in 2010 in Ohio was for possession of marijuana. The
cost was $120 million in the state of Ohio. Every 37 seconds, someone was being
arrested for marijuana. We had over 10,000 arrests and citations every year. And the
majority of those folks were African American. And so when we were looking at this
issue, and I know we said we just want to look at just this one part of the issue,
but I looked at my mother, Barbara Reese, who couldn't be just one part of the
issue. She was someone suffering with pain and certainly would be looking at this
issue but she also had a pain of seeing so many young people who looked like her who
were being arrested. And they'll still be arrested if I pass this bill today."
 
But a group that wants to put a constitutional amendment before voters this fall
says this bill falls short. The Marijuana Policy Project has a proposal to more
broadly legalize marijuana, including allowing smoking and home-growing of the
plant, which this bill doesn't permit. Spokesman Aaron Marshall said this house
passed bill will do little for patients in Ohio.
 
"It's disappointing that lawmakers couldn't have made history with a substantive and
meaningful medical marijuana bill. Today's vote will only bring empty promises
suffering from debilitating conditions who need medical marijuana. Patients will be
forced to wait two years under this plan for a limited and restrictive system that
ties doctors' hands with red tape."
 
Marshall says the House plan is too narrow and restrictive to get the job done. So
he says his group continues to gather the more than 305,000 valid petition
signatures needed by July 6th to put a proposed constitutional amendment on the
ballot this fall.  This bill now goes to the Senate where lawmakers have also been
studying the medical marijuana issue, holding town halls around Ohio. Senate
President Keith Faber said a few weeks ago that his Republican caucus was divided on
the issue.

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