June 02, 2009 – In April, Michigan became the 13th state to legalize marijuana for specified medical reasons. From football to taxes, the rivalry between Ohio and its neighbor up north is the stuff of legend. But when it comes to legalizing the use of marijuana for medical purposes, Ohio is showing little sign of following Michigan’s lead.
A bill is being negotiated behind the scenes for possible introduction this fall, but even the concept’s strongest supporters know it faces an improbable climb in the General Assembly.
The spear carrier this time may be Rep. Kenny Yuko (D., Richmond Heights), who believes he has a special perspective given his diagnosis of multiple sclerosis.
“It’s given me a spirited interest,” he said. “People come to me about MS and other illnesses. I’ve never had a marijuana cigarette in my life. I have no idea what that’s like, but people have told me about the comfort it brings them in dealing with very excruciating illnesses.”
On Nov. 4, 63 percent of Michigan voters approved a ballot issue making that state the 13th in the nation and the first in the Midwest to legalize the regulated use of marijuana by people dealing with a “debilitating medical condition” such as cancer, AIDS, Crohn’s Disease, or other conditions causing severe pain, nausea, wasting, seizures, and other problems.
Since its medical marijuana program officially took effect April 6, the Michigan Department of Community Health has received 2,144 applications for registration cards that would allow applicants or their caregivers to grow or possess limited amounts of marijuana for personal medical use.
Department spokesman James McCurtis said 1,188 cards have been issued to patients and 403 have been issued to their designated caregivers. He said demand is expected to increase.
Prior to voters’ approval of the law, the department officially opposed its passage.
“Now it doesn’t matter how people feel about it,” Mr. McCurtis said. “The people of Michigan have spoken, and now we do our job.”
John Murphy, executive director of the Ohio Prosecuting Attorneys Association, has heard the rumors in the Statehouse halls about a renewed effort in Ohio. The association remains opposed to the idea.
“It’s viewed as a controlled substance, and there must be a reason for that,” he said. “It’s regarded as harmful and habit-forming, all the usual reasons. It should remain that way.”
While the issue went directly to voters in Michigan, the emphasis in Ohio remains on the General Assembly, particularly in the House, where Democrats recently regained the majority. There’s been little talk of pursuing an expensive ballot issue, despite a recent Ohio Poll released by the University of Cincinnati that showed 73 percent of Ohioans generally favor the concept.
“The passage of the issue up there [in Michigan] came through [wealthy Democratic activist] Peter Lewis’ money,” said Ed Orlett, a former state representative from Columbus who has advocated changes in Ohio’s drug policy.
“We understand that the whole [ballot] effort would cost $2 million,” he said. “It’s a question of priorities. There are efforts in 12 other states, so someone is putting money into those states rather than Ohio.”
He said he believes chances of passage in the General Assembly are better than they were, but the odds are still stacked against it, particularly if lawmakers propose the same bill introduced last session that was more lenient than what Michigan voters passed.
For instance, the Ohio bill, which saw a single committee hearing before it died last year, would have allowed approved medical marijuana users to have on hand about 7 ounces of usable marijuana. Michigan’s law allows 2.5 ounces.
“If you take it down to 3.5 [ounces], then you’re in the ballpark,” Mr. Orlett said. “We wouldn’t stand out.”
Mr. Yuko said talks will continue over the summer in hopes of having a bill ready this fall that could have a chance of at least getting a House vote.
“People need to keep an open mind about it,” he said. “We’ve reached a point in our lives where people can act responsibly with something that has a history of misuse.”
By Jim Provance. Source.