Ohio Bill Moves Forward to Expand Medical Cannabis Program

December 16, 2021


Lawmakers in Ohio on Wednesday passed a bill that would result in the first significant change to the state’s medical cannabis program since it launched in 2016, effectively empowering doctors to recommend cannabis for just about any condition. 

Senate Bill 261 passed out of the chamber, and will now be considered by the state House of Representatives. Sponsored by Republican state Sen. Steve Huffman, the legislation would bring a host of major changes to the five-year-old law. Perhaps most significant of all, the bill calls for a big expansion of the number of medical conditions that would qualify a patient for medical cannabis treatment in the Buckeye State of Ohio.

Under Huffman’s proposed bill, physicians would be permitted to “recommend marijuana for treatment for any condition if the physician, in the physician’s sole discretion and medical opinion, finds either of the following”: “that the patient’s symptoms may reasonably be expected to be relieved from medical marijuana” and “that the patient may otherwise reasonably be expected to benefit from medical marijuana.”

Currently, patients in Ohio with the following conditions may qualify for medical cannabis treatment: Acquired immune deficiency syndrome; Alzheimer’s disease; Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Cancer; Chronic traumatic encephalopathy; Crohn’s disease; Epilepsy or another seizure disorder; Fibromyalgia; Glaucoma; Hepatitis C; Inflammatory bowel disease; Multiple sclerosis; Pain that is either chronic and severe or intractable; Parkinson’s disease; Positive status for HIV; Post-traumatic stress disorder; Sickle cell anemia; Spinal cord disease or injury; Tourette’s syndrome; Traumatic brain injury and Ulcerative colitis. 

Ohio Moves to Help More Patients

Huffman’s bill would add arthritis, migraines, autism spectrum disorder, spasticity or chronic muscle spasms, hospice care or terminal illness and opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions. 

The legislation would also create “a new Division of Marijuana Control (DMC) within the Department of Commerce,” which would “oversee and administer Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program.”

“As such, the majority of responsibilities the State Board of Pharmacy has with regard to the medical cannabis program are transferred to DMC,” read a legislative analysis of the bill, which Huffman first proposed last month. “These transferred responsibilities include: patient and caregiver registration, approval and oversight of retail dispensary licensees, oversight of licensee taxation, criminal records checks for license applicants and employees, investigations of violations of the Medical Marijuana Law, entering into reciprocity agreements with other states, and maintenance of a toll-free telephone line for responding to inquiries related to the Medical Marijuana Program. It also changes references in the Revised Code as necessary to accommodate these changes.”

Moreover, the bill would bring about a major expansion of the number of cannabis dispensaries in the state.

The bill’s analysis said that the proposal would require the Division of Marijuana Control “to endeavor to achieve a ratio of at least one licensed retail dispensary per 1,000 registered patients up to the first 300,000 registered patients and then adding additional retail dispensaries on an as-needed basis.”

It would also allow “licensed dispensaries to advertise, on social media or otherwise, without receiving prior approval from DMC,” and allow them to “display products on advertisements and within the dispensary.”

According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, the bill passed the state Senate by a  26-5 vote, and that Huffman “plans to push additional changes that didn’t get through in time for Wednesday’s floor vote.”

“Among the proposed amendments: Adding lupus to the list of qualifying conditions and clarifying that standalone processors would only be eligible for small-scale, level II cultivation licenses,” the Enquirer reported.

According to the newspaper, “Ohio’s large-scale, level I cultivators can grow up to 25,000 square feet of marijuana, and level II cultivators are limited to 3,000 square feet,” while state rules permit “licensees to expand to 75,000 square feet and 9,000 square feet, respectively.” 

Huffman’s proposal, the Enquirer reported, “would increase expansion for level II growers to 20,000 square feet while leaving level I cultivators at the same limit.”

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This decision by the Ohio Senate marks the first time since 2016 the state looks to expand its medical cannabis program.
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