Medical marijuana legalization edges closer to law in Ohio

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — A proposal to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio narrowly cleared the state Senate Wednesday over the opposition of some Republicans and Democrats, edging the bill toward almost certain passage by the end of the night.

The final bill, which cleared the Senate 18-15, bars patients from smoking or growing marijuana for medical use, but allows its use in vapor form for certain chronic health conditions.

Supporters, also from both parties, recalled emotional testimony from chronic pain sufferers and parents of sick children as influencing their decisions to support the legislation.

“There is no reason why we should make Ohioans suffer any longer,” said state Sen. Kenny Yuko, a Richmond Heights Democrat who worked with Republican Sen. David Burke, a pharmacist from Marysville, to clinch the bill’s Senate passage.

Lawmakers fast-tracked the measure as a way to head off a medical marijuana issue headed toward fall ballots.

But the Ohioans for Medical Marijuana campaign painted lawmakers’ approval as only bolstering its issue’s chances in the fall.

“Their support for medical marijuana speaks volumes for eliminating any remaining biases against allowing doctors to recommend this life-enhancing treatment to patients in need,” spokesman Aaron Marshall said in a statement.

Sen. Jay Hottinger, a Newark Republican, was among opponents of the measure. He said there is inadequate proof of the medical benefits of marijuana and expanding access runs too many risks.

Gov. John Kasich’s spokesman was noncommittal on the governor’s support, saying he would look at the bill in its final form.

The measure assigns the State Department of Commerce to regulate marijuana cultivation and distribution and requires each dispensary to employ a registered pharmacist. The state medical board would oversee recommending doctors and provide them with continuing education.

The bill also sets parameters for the placement of dispensaries, including prohibiting them from being placed within 1,000 feet of a daycare facility and giving communities the ability to opt out of having one move in. Employers who want to maintain drug-free workplaces would be provided immunity.

Sen. Bill Seitz, a Cincinnati Republican, urged fellow Republicans — especially conservatives — to support the measure. He pointed to a provision calling on the federal government to remove marijuana from its list of Schedule I dangerous substances as a move to restore states’ rights.

“Nobody with a straight face could actually claim that marijuana is more harmful than cocaine, yet marijuana is on Schedule I and cocaine is on Schedule II,” he said. “Now if that isn’t nuts, I don’t know what is.”

House leaders have set a goal of getting the bill to Kasich’s desk by the end of May.