Task force in Ohio begins its review of medical marijuana


COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Members of a task force charged with exploring medical marijuana legalization in Ohio expressed a willingness to learn more about the issue as the panel met briefly for the first time on Thursday.

Many task force participants at the Statehouse meeting said they would keep an open mind, though some acknowledged their biases.

“I do come to this room with the very strong feeling that we need a very well thought-out medical marijuana program,” said Jimmy Gould, a founding member of a marijuana legalization initiative that voters rejected last fall.

Bill Sopko, board chairman of the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association, said he was on the panel to find out more about medical marijuana. Still, he told his fellow panelists, “Our members are concerned because we employ hundreds of thousands of people.”

State lawmakers have been weighing how to address medical marijuana since Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot initiative in November that sought to legalize pot for medical and recreational use. The measure, Issue 3, would have established 10 sites with exclusive authority to grow marijuana, and with profits going to the issue’s deep-pocketed investors.

While the initiative tanked, polls surrounding the ballot issue suggested Ohioans support medical marijuana.

The task force created by Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger includes House members, a former attorney general and representatives of law enforcement, the Ohio State Medical Association and others. Rosenberger has said he wants as many facts and perspectives as possible on medical marijuana before taking any action. He gave the panel a spring deadline to complete their work.

Rep. Kirk Schuring, a Canton Republican leading the task force, said he would let people on all sides make their case on the issue.

“I come here with no predisposition,” Schuring said, as he kicked off the group’s roughly 20-minute meeting.

Rosenberger, a Clarksville Republican, has said the task force is not a stall tactic to deter legalization proponents from taking the issue to the 2016 ballot.

Three legalization efforts are being discussed for the swing state’s ballot this November. Two would legalize marijuana for most uses. The Washington, D.C.-based Marijuana Policy Project also plans a constitutional amendment to establish a medical marijuana system similar to those in 23 states and the District of Columbia.

It’s unclear what the task force will produce. Members have been asked to finish work by the end of March or, if needed, by early April.

The Senate is taking its own approach. A bipartisan pair of state senators are holding a series of town-hall meetings around Ohio to gather views from residents about making marijuana available for limited medical uses.

The first forum is to be held Saturday at Cleveland State University.