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Medical marijuana arrives in Ohio

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Medical marijuana enthusiasts in the Buckeye State have a reason to celebrate this week: House Bill 523 will go into effect Sept. 8, ushering in a new era of medicinal cannabis use in Ohio.

The bill authorizes the use of medicinal cannabis for Ohioans who meet the qualifying standards; some qualifying medical conditions include cancer, AIDS, and Parkinson’s disease. Patients will need to apply to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy for a registration card through a certified physician.

Recreational use of cannabis is still illegal under Ohio law. Marijuana remains classified federally as a Schedule I drug, and questions and concerns about medicinal cannabis’ future remain.

Smoking marijuana, even for medical purposes, will remain prohibited under state law. Vaporizing cannabis, consuming edibles and oils, and using patches will be permitted, provided it is not marketed attractively to children (following concerns in other states over the drug’s appearance).

Dispensaries must be at least 500 feet away from any church, school, playground or library.

State law continues to prohibit the private cultivation of marijuana for any purpose, medical or otherwise. Patients should expect to be able to possess up to a 90 days’ supply of marijuana at any one time legally, though the Ohio Board of Pharmacy is continuing to develop the appropriate rules and bureaucracy necessary to carry out this quasi-legalization across the state.

The necessary certification to receive and use medicinal marijuana will continue to evolve over time as the Medical Board of Ohio adds diseases and conditions that qualify. With the current bill, regulations regarding marijuana dispensaries and its cultivation are all but absent, and the board has until Sept. 8, 2017, to complete its list of rules.

While some continue to hold doubts about the usefulness of medicinal marijuana, a vast array of studies and statistics continue to tout its effectiveness.

Broader efforts to legalize marijuana for industrial and recreational use continue in Ohio, with advocacy groups such as the Ohio Rights Group (ORG) campaigning to inform and persuade residents to support its efforts. The ORG has been involved in pro-legalization efforts for years, testifying before the Ohio Senate and House, offering input to legislators and spearheading past ballot initiatives.

Some hiccups remain even with the passage of HB 523, according to Mary Jane Borden, co-founder and current treasurer of the ORG.

“An Ohioan with proper certification can still be fired from their job if they test positive for marijuana usage, though they can contest this ruling after the fact with the appropriate certification,” Borden said.

This is a result of marijuana’s continued labelling as a Schedule I drug, which marks it as having “no currently accepted medical use and a high potential for abuse.”

HB 523 also does not address the comparatively high incarceration rate for marijuana possession, for which there were 11,988 adults arrested in Ohio in 2012 alone, according to data from the Ohio Office of Criminal Justice Services.

“We have to stop arresting people over a plant,” Borden said, though she noted that HB 523 is a positive step forward for marijuana’s future.

When asked about the future of legalized cannabis in Ohio and how HB 523 contributed to the ORG’s efforts, she was more optimistic.

“In a moral society, the first thing we do is remove the sick and disabled from the battlefield,” she said, noting that upwards of 200,000 Ohioans could potentially benefit from the new medicine.

HB 523 will likely not be the end of marijuana legislation in Ohio, but the bill has planted the seeds for future growth.

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