Medical marijuana is a reality in Ohio, thanks to a fast-track move by the state legislature that pre-empted further attempts to legalize the drug through voter initiative, but it could be quite awhile before it becomes accessible to those who could benefit from it.
The legislation that approved medical marijuana, which took effect Sept. 8, created a strict regulatory process overseen by a newly-formed state commission that will finalize the rules for producing, prescribing and dispensing cannabis. That process could take at least a year, and it might be 2018 before the program is fully operational.
The state Medical Board has yet to provide guidance for doctors for recommending marijuana for those eligible to use it, including people with cancer, AIDS, Alzheimer's, PTSD, fibromyalgia and pain issues. Prescriptions cannot be issued without action by the board.
Another unresolved issue is where the drug will be obtained legally. Rules for cultivation, processing, testing and dispensing marijuana remain to be drafted. Unlike the proposal Ohio voters defeated last fall, the state medical marijuana law doesn't include any provision for "home-grown" cultivation by those eligible to use the drug legally.
Also complicating matters is the fact that marijuana remains a Schedule I drug under a federal law dating to 1970. Along with LSD, heroin and mescaline, in the eyes of federal authorities it is seen as a drug with a high potential for abuse and no medical purpose. Under Ohio's medical marijuana law, however, it ranks as a Schedule II drug.
The disparity between federal and state law was noted recently when Portage County officials ruled out county employees using medical marijuana under the county's zero-tolerance policy. The city of Kent has taken a similar stance and other local governments are soon to follow. Extending prescription coverage to medical marijuana poses another issue to be resolved. The bottom line seems to be that even if medical marijuana can be prescribed legally, some employers will seek to ban it.
There are a lot of questions to be resolved. While some continue to question the effectiveness of marijuana as a legally prescribed drug, others tout it as a legitimate remedy for a number of ailments. It appears that those who could benefit from it will have to wait before they can use it.