COLUMBUS — Just five weeks after it was introduced, the Ohio Senate passed a bill Wednesday that would expand medical marijuana conditions to migraines, autism spectrum disorder, opioid use disorder and any condition that could “reasonably be expected to be relieved” from the drug.
Senate Bill 261 passed 26 to 5. It now heads to the Ohio House.
“We’re here on our last bill before our Christmas break, we can end on a high note,” said bill sponsor Sen. Stephen Huffman, a Dayton-area Republican, who elicited groans and some applause from his colleagues on the Senate floor for the cheesy metaphor.
In addition to broadly expanding medical conditions, the bill would change other aspects of the Ohio medical marijuana program.
The bill would expand the forms of medical marijuana that can be legally sold to include pills, capsules and suppositories, oral pouches, oral strips, oral or topical sprays, salves and inhalers. Smoking marijuana would still be prohibited but vaping would continue to be allowed.
Currently, marijuana oils, tinctures, plant material, edibles, creams and patches are allowed.
SB 261 would increase the allowable amount of tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, content of extracts, from up to 70% to 90%.
SB 261 would require the new division to achieve a ratio of at least one licensed retail dispensary per 1,000 registered patients, up to the first 300,000 registered patients, then adding additional dispensaries on an as-needed basis.
Huffman said that increasing dispensaries is intended to reduce high product costs that patients have complained about in surveys.
Currently, state regulators have to approve dispensaries’ press releases and other material it considers advertising. Under SB 261, no prior state approval would be needed on advertising, including on social media. Dispensaries would also be allowed to display their products on advertisements, which is currently prohibited.
Under the bill, Ohio medical marijuana cultivators could obtain permission to expand their grow areas from 3,000 square feet to 20,000 square feet for small-scale growers and 25,000 square feet to 75,000 square feet for large-scale growers.
The bill would also create two new cultivator licenses, with one allowing up to 6,000 square feet and another up to 50,000 square feet.
The bill would change how medical marijuana is regulated to create a division of marijuana control under the Ohio Department of Commerce.
Currently, different parts of the program are regulated by the Department of Commerce, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy and State Medical Board of Ohio, which has made the program slow to roll out and slow to adapt.
Ohio Senate President Matt Huffman, a Lima Republican and cousin of bill sponsor Sen. Stephen Huffman, described the original medical marijuana bill that passed in 2016 as having a “regulatory scheme that was, frankly, fairly weak in how it would be executed.”
“So this system (described in the bill) does a better job at that,” he said. “And I think the other significant part of it is that it expands the uses for it. Essentially, it puts that in the doctor’s discretion. And for the most part, there’s formularies that talk about what drugs can (treat) but on many drugs, it’s really up to the doctor’s discretion. You saw that with COVID, that many doctors were prescribing different things because they knew their patients and they knew, ‘Well, if this drug doesn’t work, it’s not harmful to them.’”
Huffman said that while marijuana could be abused, purchases at dispensaries are reported to the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System, which is a database that tracks the dispensing and purchases of prescriptions and marijuana to patients in an attempt to prevent abuse.
The bill is just one in a spate of recent marijuana bills at a time when a group of Ohio medical marijuana businesses are finishing gathering signatures on an initiative statute that would legalize recreational marijuana.
The Just Like Alcohol campaign is gathering at least 132,887 signatures from at least 44 of Ohio’s 88 counties.
If it gets enough valid signatures, the Ohio General Assembly would first take a stab at passing a bill based on its initiated statute.
If it does not, then the issue could go to the ballot. The campaign says they feel confident the issue would pass, since marijuana is no longer a partisan issue.