Ohio Passes New Medical Cannabis Bill

By: Saif Khan

Ohio has recently been in the bizarre situation of suspending a medical cannabis campaign - because it’s lawmakers have already passed what the Marijuana Policy Project and Ohioans For Medical Marijuana call a ‘workable’ bill.

For the bill to become law, it first needs to be either signed by Gov. John Kasich or 10 days from the time he receives the bill must pass without oppositional action. The law would then take effect 90 days later.

As Ohio tentatively awaits its new Medical Cannabis Bill - HB523 - to be approved, it is worth taking a look at what provisions the bill includes and how it will affect those most in need of medicine.

Like most of the recent State-level bills passed (Minnesota, New York, Pennsylvania), Ohio’s bill does not allow for smoking raw cannabis flower or for patients to cultivate their own medicine at home.

However, unlike those bills mentioned above, it does permit medical cannabis to be dispensed in its raw herbal form. While it is unclear how Ohio lawmakers plan to enforce the no smoking clause, patients are allowed to vaporize their herbal cannabis. Other permitted forms are : oils, tinctures, infused foods and transdermal patches.

The  ‘no smoke, no grow’ trend is concerning for residents of other States hoping to have a medical bill of their own : with more states not permitting smoking or home cultivation, a patient’s right to autonomy and self-determination is violated. In addition to that infringement of rights, they are also denied a cheaper, more cost-effective method of procuring medicine.

By not allowing smoking, these bills are preventing those in need of instant relief from their symptoms to medicate adequately : for example, a glaucoma sufferer would still have to wait an additional 10-15 minutes for a sublingual tincture to take effect; those experiencing severe nausea and vomiting from cancer treatments would not be able to quell the discomfort instantly.

While smoking is irrefutably the most inefficient way to ingest cannabinoids, it is definitely effective at delivering fast relief. It is possibly the fastest delivery method next to flash vaporizing concentrated cannabis resin or oil. The ability to smoke for acute symptoms while using more efficient, longer lasting methods (ingesting a capsule or tincture) for chronic symptoms allows for the complete spectrum of relief.

If this trend continues in future State-level bills, low-income patients or those on disability benefits will only have limited and expensive options for their medication. From oils and resins that can be vaporized to tinctures and capsules that are ingested or imbibed, all concentrated formulations involve a much greater processing cost and are therefore more expensive to the patient.

The positives of the Ohio bill are that it does expand to a list of more than 20 qualifying conditions, including chronic and severe pain (as Pennsylvania’s recent bill also did), which will allow for this medicine to reach a wider group of patients than bills in New York or Minnesota. Another notable success of the bill is that it approves medical cannabis use for CTE (chronic traumatic encephalopathy) which could indicate a growing understanding of how important cannabinoids can be for treating brain-related trauma, injuries and other disorders.

As in other newly medical states, patients will need a recommendation from a licensed physician who they have previously been a patient of. It is not yet clear whether medical cannabis will be covered by health insurance companies in Ohio, so patients could face extra costs for doctor visits related to cannabis recommendations.

However, as dispensaries are not scheduled to open until 2018, access to medicine is still delayed, even once the law is in effect. Another unfortunate stipulation of the law is that employers can fire employees who are legal cannabis patients (even for use outside the workplace) if they have a zero-tolerance approach to drugs.

So while it may be unfortunate to see yet another bill that prevents smoking and home cultivation pass, it is reassuring to see expanded lists of qualifying conditions, as well as permission to use cannabis medicine in its raw form.

The Ohio bill certainly leaves something to be desired, but the Marijuana Policy Project and Ohioans For Medical Marijuana plan to help plug the gaps in HB523 with the amendment they proposed to add to Ohio’s constitution; using it as a roadmap for a more complete, compassionate bill for Ohio and its patients.