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Head of Ohio medical board recuses self from marijuana rule-making

Mike Gonidakis says that although his clients in cannabis industry aren't tied to the regulations involving physicians in the Ohio medical marijuana program, he is avoiding any appearance of conflict

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The head of Ohio’s state medical board says he won’t participate in establishing rules for certifying doctors under Ohio’s new medical marijuana law after taking on lobbying clients associated with the budding industry.

Records reviewed by The Associated Press show Mike Gonidakis recently acquired two out-of-state marijuana-related clients, Denver-based Marijuana Policy Group and Scottsdale, Arizona-based Pharm LLC, a medical marijuana grower.

Gonidakis, who also serves as president of the anti-abortion group Ohio Right to Life, confirmed his recusal in an interview with the AP. He said neither client has business before the medical board, but he wants to avoid even the appearance of a conflict.

“The only thing that the medical board’s doing is setting rules for doctors, and I’ll be recusing myself on that,” he said.

Ohio’s medical marijuana law takes effect Thursday.

It’s the second time in a month Gonidakis has said he’ll step aside to avoid any appearance of a conflict on the 12-member board. He also said he won’t vote on any abortion clinic-related complaints before the board.

In August, groups representing doctors, consumers and women sought Gonidakis’ removal as president, citing his alleged conflicts. The request has so far gone nowhere.

Under Ohio’s new medical pot law, the medical board will have one of its highest profile roles in recent memory.

The law empowers the panel to determine procedures for doctors to get certified to recommend cannabis to patients, to set conditions for eligibility and determine how often certifications must be renewed. The commission also will set reasons a certification might be revoked or suspended, standards under which those actions could be lifted and minimal standards of care when recommending treatment with medical marijuana.

Gonidakis, an attorney, said recusals on the physician-dominated board — and on most state boards and commissions, for that matter — are commonplace.

Under guidance from the Ohio Ethics Commission, recusals include not only abstaining from votes but also from discussions or deliberations on the matter in which a board member seeks to avoid a conflict.

Gonidakis was appointed to a five-year term on the medical board by Republican Gov. John Kasich in 2012 as a representative of consumers.