Marijuana bill could cut prices, increase access

Medical marijuana could get cheaper, be more widely available and used to treat more conditions in Ohio under a bill written by state Sen Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City.

Medical marijuana costs Ohio patients about $310 an ounce, “which is much higher than any other surrounding state,” Huffman said.

Ohio issues two levels of cultivator licenses for marijuana. A level one license allows a growing operation of up to 25,000 square feet, while level two authorizes up to 3,000 square feet. Growers complained those levels were set when few people had qualified to receive the drugs.

Huffman’s Senate Bill 261 would write into law a September announcement from the Ohio Department of Commerce that licensed growers could apply to expand their operations. Under the new rules, level one license-holders could grow on up to 75,000 square feet, and level two growers could use up to 20,000 square feet.

“So essentially if there’s more product, the price will come down,” Huffman said.

It would also increase the allowable number of dispensaries in the state, based on the number of patients. In some areas, such as northwest Ohio, people have to drive an hour to find a dispensary, Huffman said. His bill would allow one dispensary to open for each 1,000 eligible patients in the state.

“The bill’s all about business,” Huffman said. “We’re trying to bring free market principles to a highly regulated business.”

ExploreOhio medical marijuana users say prices still too high

As of September, according to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, nearly 360,000 people in Ohio had been recommended for medical marijuana use, but only about 130,000 had active registration and recommendations. Altogether, fewer than 200,000 people had bought from licensed dispensaries.

Some people buy monthly, and some only tried it once, Huffman said.

“There’s 40,000 of them that have gotten a card and have never bought medical marijuana,” he said.

To the 21 conditions already eligible for medical marijuana, SB 261 would add:

  • Arthritis;
  • Migraines;
  • Autism spectrum disorder;
  • Spasticity or chronic muscle spasms;
  • Hospice care or terminal illness;
  • Opioid use disorder;
  • Any other condition a recommending physician believes medical marijuana would help.

“That’s kind of a catchall phrase that will use the doctor’s education to decide,” said Huffman, who is also a physician.

It would also expand the ways medical marijuana can be administered in Ohio. It can already be taken as an oil, tincture, plant material, edible or a patch. Huffman’s bill would add:

  • Pills, capsules and suppositories;
  • Oral pouches, strips or sprays;
  • Topical sprays, salves or lotions;
  • Inhalers;
  • Any other form the state Board of Pharmacy approves.

Senate Bill 261 would move regulation of dispensaries from the Ohio Board of Pharmacy to the state Department of Commerce, creating a Division of Marijuana Control and simplifying compliance for businesses that may grow, process and dispense medical marijuana as a combined operation.

The bill also would let licensed dispensaries advertise, on social media or elsewhere, without prior approval from the Ohio Division of Marijuana Control. Licensed dispensaries could also put their products on display in-store and in ads.

The new rules would retain an adjustment made for COVID-19, allowing drive-up and curbside dispensing, Huffman said. Many disabled patients, especially veterans, have trouble getting out of vehicles and going inside a building, he said.

ExploreOhio medical marijuana dispensaries set to double

In 2016 Huffman, then a state representative, sponsored House Bill 523, which legalized medical marijuana for some uses.

“Ever since, within six months, people came and said, ‘We need to fix this, we need to change that, this would make it better,’” he said. Senate Bill 261 is a compilation and refinement of those requests.

Huffman introduced the bill Nov. 9, and it has been referred to the Senate Small Business & Economic Opportunity Committee. It’s cosponsored by Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights.

“Sen. Yuko’s the only person I asked to be a cosponsor,” Huffman said. While marijuana is a controversial issue, Yuko has backed reform efforts for years, he said.

Huffman said committee chair state Sen. Michael Rulli, R-Salem, told him SB 261 will get a first hearing Nov. 16. But Huffman doesn’t expect the bill to work its way through the General Assembly by the end of 2021.

“Hopefully we can get this done by early spring next year,” he said.

About the Author