Two Republican Ohio lawmakers have introduced a bill to revamp the state’s medical marijuana laws that would create a new state agency to oversee the program and allow more patients to use cannabis medically. Measure Senate Bill 9It was introduced by state senators Steve Hoffman and Kirk Schuring on Jan. 11 and forwarded on Tuesday to a legislative committee for consideration. The bill is similar to another proposal from the last legislative session, Senate Bill 261, which failed to gain approval in the Ohio House of Representatives after passing the Senate in December 2021.
Both pieces of legislation attempt to update Ohio’s medical marijuana law, which was passed by the General Assembly and signed into law in 2016. Under the new law, a new state agency, the Marijuana Control Division, would be created as part of the Ohio Department of Commerce to regulate the state’s medical marijuana program. The legislation also created a 13-member committee responsible for overseeing the new agency and medical program. Under current law, the state’s medical marijuana program is overseen by the Ohio Department of Commerce, the Ohio Medical Board, and the Ohio Pharmacy Board.
“What we discovered is that many farmers want to expand and grow more,” he said. Hoffman said in a statement Local media quoted. “There are more farmers, there is more demand. They put an application into the Department of Commerce, and it’s been there for 18 months or two years. Hopefully this takes the bureaucracy out of this and streamlines things and makes it a better working industry.”
Ohio Bell adds new qualification requirements
Senate Bill 9 would also add autism spectrum disorder, arthritis, migraines, chronic muscle spasms, and opioid use disorder to the state’s list of medical conditions that qualify a patient to use medical cannabis. Currently, the list of qualifying conditions includes more than two dozen serious medical conditions including cancer, chronic pain, AIDS, Parkinson’s disease, post-traumatic stress disorder, and chronic diseases.
This measure also allows the use of medical marijuana by patients with other debilitating medical conditions that can be treated with medical cannabis, as determined by a physician. The previous bill had a similar provision, allowing patients to use medical cannabis if a physician determined that “a patient’s symptoms could reasonably be expected to be relieved by medical marijuana.”
At a committee hearing on Senate Bill 9 held Tuesday, Hoffman and Schuring told colleagues that many medical marijuana patients in Ohio cross state lines to obtain cannabis from neighboring states with more liberal marijuana laws. As of January 1, more than half of the more than 320,000 patients who enrolled in Ohio’s medical marijuana program history, only about 164,000 had an active doctor’s recommendation and patient enrollment, according to information from state regulators.
“Ohio’s largest distributor is located in Michigan,” Hoffman said in a statement Tuesday. “We need to change that, make it friendlier, so people come here and have a safe, viable product.”
Senate Bill 261 would have also allowed state-licensed medical marijuana growers to expand their growing operations. Although provisions for increasing the permitted agricultural area were not included in the new law, Hoffman said he was open to amending the legislation to add the increased agricultural area.
“In my discussions with Senator Schuring, we felt this would be a positive step and a positive change for the industry,” Hoffman said. “At the same time, I hope the members of the House of Representatives will be comfortable with that.”
Recreational marijuana proposal under consideration
Ohio lawmakers are also considering a bill that would legalize recreational marijuana in the state. Earlier this month, Secretary of State Frank LaRose reintroduced it Proposal or offer, which would legalize marijuana for adults 21 and older and impose a 10% tax on commercial cannabis products. Activists had hoped the measure would appear on the ballot in the November midterm elections, but legal challenges caused delays that led to an agreement with state officials to rehear the case this year. If the state legislature does not approve the measure within four months, the Coalition to Regulate Marijuana Like Alcohol, the group leading the legalization effort, can gather signatures to put the proposal before voters in the fall.
Despite the bill legalizing adult cannabis use, Hoffman, a physician, said he remains interested in improving the state’s medical marijuana program. If recreational marijuana were legalized, he said, it would create an environment without “a lot of the medical marijuana industry.”
“This law, to me, is not so much about suffrage initiative, but about making the industry as best we can,” said Hoffman.
Trent Wolowicz, chief strategy officer of Joshi, a vertically integrated, multi-state cannabis company that last week opened Beyond Hello Cincinnati, Ohio’s first medical marijuana dispensary, called on state legislators to pass Senate Bill 9 in a statement to High times.
“If passed, SB 9 would make safe, tested medical cannabis products accessible to more Ohioans by expanding eligibility requirements, authorizing additional management models and legalization mechanisms to allow responsible, incremental industrial growth,” Wolovic said. “Ultimately, the changes proposed in SB 9 will facilitate a stable supply chain, reduce product prices and generally benefit Ohio patients.”
Senate Bill No. 9 has been referred to the Senate At-Large Government Committee for consideration. At a hearing Tuesday, the committee’s Republican chair, Sen. Michael Rowley, said the committee would move quickly on the bill.