Marijuana display jars are shown at a Colorado shop in January 2014. (RJ Sangosti, Denver Post file)

‘With a heavy heart’: Group ends Ohio medical marijuana signature effort

The Ohioans for Medical Marijuana will continue as an advocate to make sure the state adheres to the legislation.

CINCINNATI — A group recently ended its effort to put the Ohio medical marijuana issue on the state’s general election ballot.

The Ohioans for Medical Marijuana announced that organizers decided with “a heavy heart” to halt collection of signatures to get on the November ballot in the aftermath of passage this past week by state lawmakers of a medical marijuana legalization bill.

The proposal would bar patients from smoking marijuana or growing it at home, but it would allow its use in vapor form for certain chronic health conditions. It still requires Gov. John Kasich’s signature.

The ballot campaign initially said the legislation would bolster their efforts. But the statement from campaign manager Brandon Lynaugh said that while the group still believes patients should be allowed to grow and smoke their own marijuana, the bill was “a step forward” and “all in all, a moderately good piece of legislation passed by lawmakers who were pushed hard by the patient community.”

Backed by the nationally active Marijuana Policy Project, the Ohio group said the bill’s final version removed red tape and regulations that would have limited patient access. It said it will continue as an advocate to make sure the state adheres to the legislation and will work to improve the program.

Ohio House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, R-Clarksville, welcomed the Saturday announcement, and praised “the General Assembly’s willingness to listen and respond to the will of Ohioans.” He said in statement that the legislation passed is “a common-sense plan … that provides a system for legalizing medical marijuana that is tightly regulated but accessible to those who need it.”

The legislation had bipartisan backing, and supporters cited emotional testimony from chronic pain sufferers and parents of sick children as influencing their decisions.

Lawmakers fast-tracked the measure to head off the issue headed toward fall ballots. Ohioans last year rejected a broader marijuana legalization bid.

Sen. Jay Hottinger, a Newark Republican, opposed the legislation. He said there is inadequate proof of the medical benefits of marijuana and expanding access runs too many risks.

The State Department of Commerce would regulate marijuana cultivation and distribution and requires each dispensary to employ a registered pharmacist. The state medical board would oversee recommending doctors and provide them with continuing education.

The bill also sets parameters for the placement of dispensaries, including prohibiting them from being placed within 1,000 feet of a daycare facility and allowing communities to opt out of having one. Employers who want to maintain drug-free workplaces would have immunity.

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AP reporters Ann Sanner and Julie Carr Smyth in Columbus contributed.

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