The legalization of medical marijuana has been a widely anticipated topic that many Ohioans have debated about for years.  As Yankees legend Yogi Berra once famously said, “When you come to a fork in the road, take it.” This year, the Ohio General Assembly was compelled to make a difficult but necessary choice, to take that fork in the road and move cautiously and methodically forward, becoming the 25th state in the Union to approve its use.


Throughout the deliberative legislative process, we as lawmakers heard many testimonials from veterans suffering from PTSD, mothers who have tried every possible remedy for their epileptic children, individuals who are suffering from debilitating diseases, and many more. We also heard input from experts from Colorado, Michigan, Connecticut and other states that have legalized marijuana to varying degrees. Members of the General Assembly relied heavily upon these first-hand accounts in drafting, and ultimately passing, the best possible medical marijuana law.


By establishing the Medical Marijuana Control Commission, Ohio will now have a strict regulatory framework surrounding the legalization of medical marijuana to help patients, while still ensuring that the product does not fall into the wrong hands. Additionally, the legislation provides certain protections for Ohio employers so the safety of their workforce is not compromised due to an employee’s use of medical marijuana.


In regard to the workplace and medical marijuana, the recently enacted HB 523 does not require an employer to permit or accommodate an employee’s use, possession, or distribution of medical marijuana. Likewise, there are no provisions in the bill that prohibit an employer from establishing and enforcing a drug-free workplace policy, a drug testing policy, or a zero-tolerance policy.


HB 523 was crafted in good faith to provide another form of relief to people suffering from specifically identified serious conditions: terminal cancer, Crohn's disease, PTSD, epilepsy, debilitating diseases and more.  It gives patients who experience chronic pain access to a much less addictive alternative to opiates.  The Medical Marijuana Control Commission will be providing formal recommendations to the Ohio Department of Commerce regarding cultivation licenses and to the State Medical Board outlining the strict licensing and oversight of physicians recommending some non-smoking form of medical marijuana.  Additionally, they will also provide guidance to the State Board of Pharmacy overseeing retail dispensaries. 


In the meantime, many of our local governments are considering legislation to use their zoning authority to ban the cultivation and retail sale of medical marijuana within their own jurisdictions.  Local control of land use was the expressed intent of the law.  These measures are pro-active in the face of an inevitable change in state and most likely, federal laws, as the medical and legal community continues to struggle with the efficacy of this form of alternative treatment for chronic pain.  As the program is established, refined and likely modified over the next two years, I am confident that the regulatory and statutory parameters included in this legislation will provide the optimum safeguards in the protection of public health while allowing those suffering from chronic disease and painful conditions the safest and best alternatives that modern medicine can provide.

 
 
 
  
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