Pot law takes effect, use still illegal

It may be two years before Ohioans can legally obtain and use drug.

At this point, there aren’t any legal growers, testing labs, dispensaries or doctors certified to recommend the drug. The law gives state regulators two years to get the entire program up and running.

“I think when it’s all over and done with we will have the best medical marijuana program in the United States,” said state Rep. Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, who was a leader in the effort to craft the law. “We could be up and running sooner than some are anticipating but we want to make sure we do it very deliberately and we do it the right way and it doesn’t cause harm to patients who are seeking these forms of alternative medicine.”

In the meantime, going to Michigan or another state for medical pot isn’t an end-run free of legal risks, experts say. Medical marijuana users in Ohio must get a recommendation from a certified Ohio doctor, said Tessie Pollock, spokeswoman for the State Medical Board of Ohio. No physicians are certified yet.

The law gives Ohioans the chance to use an “affirmative defense” if they run into legal trouble for using medical marijuana before the program is operational. It allows defendants to argue in court that they would qualify under Ohio’s law once it is operational — negating their criminal or civil liability. It is not the same as immunity from prosecution.

Ninety days ago, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed into law a measure that legalizes marijuana for use by patients with 21 conditions, such as cancer, traumatic brain injury or chronic pain. It allows medical marijuana edibles, oils, patches and vaporizing but not smoking or home growing. The law provides a regulatory framework but leaves details up to state agencies to hammer out.

The 30-day clock starts ticking Thursday for Kasich and legislative leaders to appoint 14 members to the Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee, which will make recommendations on how to control and regulate the industry. The committee must meet within 30 days of the last member being appointed.

Regulation will be handled by three state agencies:

  • The Ohio Department of Commerce will run a seed-to-sale program and establish the number of growers.
  • The State Medical Board of Ohio will certify doctors who are eligible for recommend marijuana for their patients.
  • The Ohio Pharmacy Board will register patients and caregivers and oversee dispensaries, including deciding how many there should be statewide.

The state Controlling Board released $1.8 million in funds to the pharmacy board and commerce department to begin setting up the regulatory program. And the Ohio Supreme Court is considering a clarification to rules governing attorneys so that they may advise clients on how to operate under the state medical marijuana law and regulations.

State Rep. Steve Huffman, R-Tipp City, who sponsored the medical marijuana bill, said lawmakers may have to address two potential issues: how to tax medical pot and how to allow banks to handle money flowing through the medical marijuana business pipeline.

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