Ohioans For Medical Marijuana Suspend Ballot Initiative

Ohioans For Medical Marijuana Suspend Ballot Initiative

May 31, 2016

Ohioans for Medical Marijuana suspended its drive to place a medical marijuana issue on the November 2016 Ohio ballot May 27, according to Brandon Lynaugh, campaign manager, in a press release.

The decision comes as the Ohio Senate narrowly passed H.B. 523, which creates a medical marijuana program and Medical Marijuana Control Program, last week, with Gov. John Kasich expected to sign it into law. But improvements to and passage of the bill in the legislature made it difficult to continue to raise funds for the ballot measure, according to Aaron Marshall, communications director for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana.

“When the legislature has passed a bill that’s not perfect, but decent, it’s really hard to get people to commit on turning a B into an A+,” says Marshall.

H.B. 523 was revised during its time in the Ohio Senate, with some changes in areas that the group had been concerned about before. Some red tape and onerous regulations limiting patient access were removed, according to Lynaugh, and an affirmative defense was added. The affirmative defense would give patients a legal recourse for marijuana-related charges before the program is fully implemented.

“Before the affirmative defense was added, we were looking at two more years before we could have this system in place,” says Marshall. “With the affirmative defense … qualifying patients are going to be able to have some legal protection. That will be for the first time ever in Ohio. That’s a big deal.”

New medical conditions were also added to the bill including fibromyalgia and Alzheimer’s, though still missing are others that were in the group’s ballot proposal such as Huntington’s disease, muscular dystrophy, nausea and muscle spasms. H.B. 523 also dropped “troubling provisions raising the threshold for pain,” says Lynaugh.

The bill also still has no option for home grow for patients, which would provide a low-cost option for medicine.

“[Lawmakers] just weren’t ready to go there,” says Marshall. “We’re concerned about there being a system that results in a low-cost medicine. A lot of our work is going to be toward making sure they put together a system that people can access.”

As Kasich is expected to sign H.B. 523, Ohioans for Medical Marijuana is shifting to an advocacy role “to ensure that the State of Ohio lives up to the promises contained in H.B. 523, but also working to better the program utilizing our amendment as a roadmap for those improvements,” says Lynaugh.

That means working at the state house alongside the boards involved in discussion and deciding rules for the system. “There need to be people there when rule-making is done … who are advocates for patients. We’re going to continue this fight,” says Marshall.

Though some supporters are disappointed that the Marijuana Policy Project-backed group is suspending its ballot measure, the support of patients and advocates put pressure on the state legislature to move toward legalization, says Marshall.

“200,000 Ohioans thought it was a pretty good idea,” he says. “The leverage and the pressure that was put on them by us and by patients was important here. We think people, in the long term, recognize that we got something accomplished that people can be proud of and will help us carry our fight forward.”