COLUMBUS – APRIL 18, 2016: UnitedOhio, a coalition of leaders from the Ohio cannabis community, came together in January to work with all measures to move Ohio forward on the path to legalization for the patients of Ohio. Our organization, to date, has consulted with multiple citizen-led initiatives to legalize medical cannabis, as well as the Statehouse, in an effort to influence all efforts, based on UnitedOhio’s Priorities for Medical Cannabis Reform.
UnitedOhio applauds the House and Senate for taking serious action on the issue of medical cannabis for the first time in Ohio’s history. Our coalition of leaders completed an initial assessment of House Bill 523, in its current form. While we recognize that the initial draft of this bill will evolve over the coming months as it works its way through the House and Senate, we believe it is important to communicate both our content and concern. We believe House Bill 523, in its current form, fails to provide for safe and reliable access to patients. We look forward to working with the legislature to address our concerns, and we are hopeful that House Select Committee on Medical Marijuana, chaired by Representative Schuring, will take the concerns of needs of patients seriously.
UnitedOhio compiled an overview of our concerns to date with House Bill 523. The list should not be considered comprehensive, and we expect to continue to update the public with our coalition’s opinion on whether the evolution of House Bill 523 improves to adequately meet the needs of Ohio’s patients. Our organization will be working at the Statehouse, including legislators from both the House and Senate, to hear from patient constituents directly, on what they need to make this program successful.
Issue 1: Lack of Patient Representation
Patient representation on the Medical Marijuana Control Commission is critical to ensure patient’s interests are spoken for. As is currently written, the commission requires only someone to represent their interests, with disregard for the individual’s qualifications or background. While UnitedOhio recognizes the importance of a diverse commission, it is a fatal flaw that the Ohio legislature does not take stronger consideration to make sure patient interests are best represented on the commission.
As the Governor has sole authority to approve appointments, UnitedOhio is gravely concerned that the security of a medical cannabis program, and the protections of patients, is at the whim of a change in political party. It is critical that the Medical Marijuana Control Commission be made up of individuals who can best represent patient’s interests, without concern as to whether the rules and regulations put in place will be at the appeasement of the Governor of Ohio, or any other elected official.
Issue 2: Speed of Implementation
HB 523 fails to implement a medical cannabis program in a timely manner. As Ohio would be the 25th state to legalize medical cannabis if enacted today, providing the Commission 1 year to develop a program put undue burden on patients, who could be waiting as much as two years before a fully functional supply chain is in place. Ohio must lean on the experience and success of medical cannabis programs in other states, and require the commission to put in place an initial set of rules and regulations within four months of the law’s enactment.
Issue 3: Qualifying Conditions
The lack of effort to consider an initial list of qualifying conditions is both disappointing and irresponsible. With over 20,000 studies on the use of cannabis, and 24 other states who have approved cannabis to treat medical conditions, it is critical that the legislature include an initial list of qualifying conditions. After months of investigation, decades of medical studies, and 24 other states who have approved medical cannabis programs, it is prudent that legislator’s make it clear on who will be eligible for the program at the onset.
Until such time that Ohio’s legislators make it clear that Ohio’s most vulnerable patients will be protected, it is critical that Ohio continues to pursue ballot measures, which provide comprehensive rules and regulations for Ohio’s patients.
Issue 4: Whole Plant Access
All parts of the cannabis plant have proven to be effective for a variety of medical conditions. Even recent studies confirm this. A medical cannabis program must recognize the potential of the whole plant, and the ability to most effectively administer treatment in various ways. Whole plant access, in varying forms, is necessary to provide comprehensive treatment options to Ohio’s patients.
Exclusion of delivery forms that are “considered attractive to children” is a misguided attempt to protect the interests of our youth. It is the responsibility of the state, industry and parents to ensure proper procedures and tamper-resistant packaging are utilized. Restrictions on delivery forms based on their subjective appearance provide little, to no, benefit, to limit consumption or diversion to those who are not qualified patients.
Issue 5: Home Grow and Caregiver Network
Access to the healthcare system is a growing issue in this country, and Ohio is no exception. In addition to a regulated supply chain, a caregiver network should be established for patients who, for whatever reason (location, illness, cost, access to product not available in dispensaries), choose a more local and familiar source for their cannabis. For those same reasons, home grow should be an option for patients. By allowing a locality to prohibit or limit the number of retail dispensaries, and without access to home grow and/or a caregiver network, Ohio will put the best interest of the industry ahead of patient access.
Issue 6: Patient Protections
No patient or caregiver should be at risk of legal prosecution. The legislature should consider following the lead of states like Maryland, which provide a safe haven to patients and caregivers who acquire medical cannabis from another state, until such time Ohio is able to provide a reliable supply chain. Ohio should also allow for an affirmative defense if (1) a patient has a debilitating medical condition that has been diagnosed by a practitioner with whom the defendant has a physician-patient relationship, and marijuana is likely to provide the defendant with therapeutic or palliative relief from the debilitating medical condition, or (2) a caregiver was assisting, and the marijuana was intended for medical use by, an individual with a debilitating medical condition.
Issue 7: Revenue Allocation
Following the lead of other states that have enacted medical cannabis programs, is critical to protect and promote medical and public health research. The legislature should require at least a portion of tax and fee revenue generated from the medical cannabis industry to research that benefits patients.
Issue 8: Recommendation Restrictions
The objective of a medical cannabis program should promote safe and reliable access, without an undue burden on the patient. House Bill 523 fails to meet this requirement through restrictions that make it difficult, or impossible, for some of Ohio’s most vulnerable patients to take advantage of a medical cannabis program. For one, Veteran’s Affairs physicians cannot discuss medical cannabis, and many physicians may choose not to recommend for non-medical reasons. This locks countless veterans and other patients out of the program. In addition, a requirement to renew a patient’s prescription every 90 days will make it difficult for at risk patients to maintain a valid prescription for long-term conditions.
The legislature should set a renewal period at no less than 6 months. As has been enacted in Illinois, the Ohio program should also allow patients with a qualifying condition to apply for medical cannabis if they have a qualifying condition, with supporting medical documentation, regardless of their physician’s decision to recommend.
UnitedOhio unites the Ohio cannabis community, patients and industry leaders to be a collective force in changing and influencing Ohio's laws to provide legal and safe access to patients. Our coalition, founded in January 2016, has years of experience working with patients and medical professionals, studying what works and what does not, in the 24 other states in our union that have legalized cannabis in some form. Our Vision is to lead Ohio as the preeminent patient advocacy organization for therapeutic cannabis use and research. Our Mission is to (1) Advocate for comprehensive and regulated access to cannabis for therapeutic use and research as a unified coalition; (2) Influence groups and individuals working on cannabis reform on behalf of the patients of Ohio; and (3) Promote patient-prioritized best practices on regulations, strategies and policies for Ohio’s cannabis industry.