DARKE COUNTY — House Bill 523, signed by Governor John Kasich in June 2016 and approved by the Ohio House and Senate later that year, is expected to be fully implemented by September 2018. The legislation would allow for the licensing of 12 large and 24 smaller farms in Ohio as medical marijuana growers, as well as the establishment of 60 medical marijuana dispensaries.
“Right after Responsible Ohio failed, the speaker developed a task force, which I was on, that heard 20 hours or so of witnesses,” Ohio Representative Steve Huffman, who sponsored HB 523, said. Responsible Ohio was a movement supporting the passage of Issue 3, an initiative that would have legalized marijuana for recreational use for Ohio residents over 21. Issue 3 was defeated at the polls in 2015.
Huffman was quick to dispel what he felt were a number of misconceptions and myths about HB 523.
“Even with this new law, there is no smoking of medical marijuana in Ohio, and no growing of marijuana by non-licensed growers,” Huffman said.
Instead, according to Huffman, chemicals extracted from the drug must be applied in oil-based or vaporized form, via e-cigarettes, while only licensed facilities may sell or grow the substance, and strictly for medical use. There is expected to be one dispensary serving Darke, Preble, and Butler counties, as well as a licensed grower located in Yellow Springs.
In addition, Huffman said, not all medical practitioners will be licensed to recommend medical marijuana. Instead, those that do will need to apply for a special certification, and there are only 20 illnesses or conditions for which it will be legal to recommend the substance. There are 5,000 known strains of marijuana, according to Huffman, and HB 523 only applies to those especially rich in the chemicals tetrahydrocannabinol (THC) and cannabidiol (CBD).
THC, which produces a euphoric effect and is responsible for the “high” commonly associated with the drug, has been championed by veterans groups as a possible treatment for Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), and can also be used to increase appetite, reduce nausea, decrease pain and inflammation, and treat muscle control disorders. CBD, meanwhile, can help control epileptic seizures, and may also be useful in treating mental illness and addiction.
There are still a number of issues, however, which may make it difficult for the new legislation to have the desired effect.
“Marijuana is still classified as a Schedule I drug,” Huffman said, “which means it is considered to have no medical benefit. That’s obviously not true. The drug needs to be moved to a Schedule II classification, so that we can do more research.”
In addition, Huffman said, the drug’s Schedule I classification results in banks being reluctant to touch transactions related to the substance, for fear of facing federal sanctions. As a result, the sale and manufacture of medical marijuana will remain a “cash business,” at least initially, with even the large fees mandated for operators of farms and dispensaries likely being paid in cash. There can also be no tax on medical marijuana, something Huffman said would require a constitutional amendment in order to change.
Even with these obstacles, however, Huffman remained optimistic.
“We’ve got another nine months before this is all fully implemented,” Huffman said. “But so far, I think the process is going well.”
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