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Q&A on effort to legalize medical marijuana in Ohio

Ohio lawmakers Wednesday proposed a medical marijuana program that would let doctors recommend pot to their patients, give employers the right to fire workers who use it, and grant wide regulatory authority to a nine-member agency.

The Ohio House is expected to introduce the bill this week and begin hearings in a special committee headed by state Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton.

The plan is skimpy on details about how medical marijuana would be taxed, whether patients would be allowed to smoke or vaporize it, how many growers would be in business or what illnesses or conditions would qualify a patient to use it. But Schuring was clear on this: no home grow will be allowed.

The bill will also call for:

• the governor appointing Medical Marijuana Control Commission, which would regulate the industry;

• the control commission writing industry rules within 14 months of the bill becoming law; and

• requiring doctors to report statistics to the state on the circumstances that they recommended medical marijuana.

The bill is the latest political development in a fast-changing marijuana landscape in Ohio.

In November, voters soundly rejected a sweeping plan to legalize pot for recreational and medical use and grant exclusive growing rights to the ten investor groups that were bankrolling the campaign.

Lawmakers, though not enthusiastic about legalizing marijuana, recognized that they had two choices: control the terms of legalization themselves or sit back and let a citizen group call the shots.

Now, Ohioans for Medical Marijuana — a citizen group with national backing and financing — and a second group are launching petition drives to put constitutional amendments on the November ballot. Groups must collect 306,000 valid voter signatures by July 6 to qualify for the November ballot.

The aggressive schedule announced by legislative leaders — get a medical marijuana bill through both chambers and to the governor’s desk by June — appears to be an effort to head off the citizen groups. Also noteworthy is that the Ohio House plan would put the program in state law while the citizen groups want it installed in the state constitution.

State Rep. Stephen Huffman, R-Tipp City, a physician working on the bill, said as a doctor he sees the medical marijuana issue as a scientist. But he added, “Now for the past 15 months I’ve been a politician elected to the Ohio House. And I see it from the other way too. We need to lead and that’s what I was elected to do.”

Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, warned that it would be “irresponsible” for advocates for medical marijuana to seek their own plan and urged them to join the lawmakers’ effort.

“We need to see the details of what’s being proposed. We aren’t going to assume that a legislative body that has failed to act on this issue for decades will suddenly move forward and adopt adequate legislation within the next couple of months,” said Mason Tvert, spokesman for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana and the Marijuana Policy Project.

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