Of the many bills Ohio legislators are considering in the current lame-duck session, state Sen. Steve Huffman’s update to his medical marijuana law has among the best chances of passage during the four working weeks on the schedule.
Senate Bill 261 passed the Ohio Senate in December 2021 and has had five hearings in the House Government Oversight Committee. If it’s voted out of committee soon, it would go to the full House floor for final passage.
The bill would add to the conditions eligible for medical marijuana and the ways in which it can be taken. It would expand authorized growing space and increase the number of legal dispensaries.
To the 21 conditions already eligible for medical marijuana, SB 261 would add:
• 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, R-Tipp City, 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.
• Any other form state regulators approve.
Huffman said there is still no consideration of allowing medical marijuana to be smoked.
As a state representative in 2016, he sponsored House Bill 523, which legalized medical marijuana for some uses. Huffman introduced the update in November 2021.
When he introduced the bill, medical marijuana cost Ohio patients about $310 an ounce, higher than any surrounding state, he said. Expanding growing space and sales outlets will bring that price down, 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.
Senate Bill 261 would write into law a September 2021 announcement from the Ohio Department of Commerce allowing level-one licensees to grow on up to 75,000 square feet, and for level-two growers using up to 20,000 square feet.
The bill would allow one dispensary to open for each 1,000 eligible patients in the state. That’s six times the number open when the bill was filed, though the state has approved more licenses since then. It would also continue to allow drive-up and curbside dispensing, which began during COVID-19 restrictions.
A committee amendment by state Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Green Twp., adds a requirement to use uniform federal standards on testing marijuana’s strength.
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 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.