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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WCMH) — Ohio lawmakers are mounting another effort to pass a bill that would shift which government agency oversees the state’s medical marijuana program and widen who is eligible for a card.
Sens. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City) and Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) introduced Senate Bill 9 in the General Government committee Tuesday. The proposed legislation would form a Division of Marijuana Control within the Ohio Department of Commerce, taking most medical marijuana oversight away from the Ohio Board of Pharmacy.
A larger number of Ohioans would become eligible for marijuana treatment under the bill, too. It adds half a dozen qualifying conditions to current law, including arthritis, migraines, chronic muscle spasms, terminal illness, and opioid use disorder. Doctors can recommend marijuana treatment for any condition they are qualified to treat and deem to be “debilitating.”
An earlier version of the bill, also sponsored by Huffman, stalled in an Ohio House committee last legislative session after clearing its original chamber in mid-December.
During SB9’s first hearing Tuesday, Huffman and Schuring testified that many Ohioans are crossing state lines to purchase medical marijuana products — in part, because of inefficiencies they see in Ohio’s current system.
“The largest dispenser for Ohioans is in Michigan,” Huffman said in testimony Tuesday. “We need to turn that around, and make it more friendly, so people come here and they have a safe, viable product.”
More than half of medical marijuana program registrants are no longer using their card, Schuring said. Of the close to 324,000 patients registered in the program’s history, about 164,000 have both an active registration and recommendation as of Jan. 10, according to data from the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program.
Sixty dispensaries are licensed and in business, according to program data. Under the bill, the Division of Marijuana Control would be tasked with reaching a ratio of one dispensary per 1,000 patients through the first 300,000 registered patients.
The state’s medical marijuana program has yielded $1.14 billion in program sales as of the start of 2023.
Close to two weeks before SB9 was introduced, Ohio Secretary of State Frank LaRose resubmitted a proposal that would legalize recreational marijuana in the state. That question could appear before voters during the November election if the GOP-led Statehouse does not take action on the measure within four months.
Huffman said the possibility of a recreational use ballot initiative does not give him pause in pushing for an overhaul of the current medical system, even if recreational use becomes legal in the near future, which he said would create an environment in Ohio where there is not “much of a medical marijuana industry.”
“This bill, to me, is not so much about the ballot initiative, but to make the industry as best as we can,” Huffman said.
Sen. Michael Rulli (R-Salem), who chairs the Senate General Government committee, said Tuesday the committee would move quickly on the legislation.