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Medical Marijuana Is Legal In Ohio, But Can You Get It Without A Program In Place?

Life under Ohio’s fledgling medical marijuana law remains hazy. With every action, a new question seems to arise.

The state Medical Board has advised doctors not to recommend marijuana to patients while Ohio’s program is being crafted, which could take up to two years. But an author of the law questions that advice.

Attorneys have been cleared to help clients navigate the law, but new legislation makes any advice they give a moving target.

As the law ramps up, here’s a look at some of the latest developments:

Doctors told not to recommend marijuana

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The Ohio State Medical Board, which regulates doctors, put in writing its guidance advising doctors not to recommend marijuana to patients.

The law gives adult patients and parents or guardians of minor children an affirmative defense for certain marijuana-related acts that may still be considered crimes until Ohio’s law is fully implemented.

But the board said physicians need one of its “certificates to recommend” before they can write written recommendations for medical marijuana for their patients. Rules for how those certificates will work haven’t been written yet. The board has two years.

Democratic State Senator Kenny Yuko, one of the law’s authors, questioned the board’s directive. He said the law wasn’t supposed to work this way.

Senator Yuko said the law spelled out “everything a physician would need to do to provide patients with this limited, short-term protection without having to wait for the agencies.”

Yuko said the law’s affirmative defense section was a compromise built into the bill so patients wouldn’t have to wait two years for their medicine.

The board has advised doctors to consult their employer or their lawyer.

Patients can consult lawyers about access rights

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While initially reticent, attorneys have now been cleared to proceed.

The Ohio Supreme Court adopted a rule change September 20 that clarified lawyers’ ethical responsibilities as they relate to the medical marijuana law.

The high court made clear attorneys are free to counsel or assist clients when it comes to conduct “expressly permitted” under the legislation that laid out how Ohio’s medicinal cannabis program will work.

The guidance says lawyers may advise clients on how to navigate the law, what it permits and how it’s implemented. They also must mention how that relates to federal law.

Chief Justice Maureen O’Connor said the court wanted to act quickly after an advisory opinion issued by a professional conduct panel in August suggested lawyers might run into ethical problems since using, growing and selling marijuana remains a federal crime.

Legal debate rages

If lawyers begin advising doctors and patients that they’re adequately protected to begin recommending and using medical marijuana, there’s still a big question: Where can it be legally obtained?

Since marijuana is not being legally grown in Ohio yet, many have thought to turn to other states where it is legal. But, not so fast.

First-term state Rep. Kyle Koehler, a Springfield Republican, proposed legislation last month that would limit medical marijuana purchases to states with similarly restrictive medical marijuana laws.

That means any state that allows marijuana to be smoked or grown at home would be off limits, since Ohio’s law prohibits both. Of 25 states where medical marijuana is legal, 15 allow residents to grow their own, and only four besides Ohio - New York, Minnesota, Louisiana and Pennsylvania - prohibit smoking it as a treatment option.

Ohio Cannabis Association Executive Director Brian Wright said, “Patients need help, not tinkering,” calling the bill misinformed.

Newly formed committee will design program

Ohio’s commerce department and the medical and pharmacy boards will operate the state’s medical marijuana program. First, an advisory committee has to be created to design the program.

The group is slowly taking shape. Republican Gov. John Kasich made his appointments last month. The four legislative leaders, a Republican and Democrat from each chamber, also get to name appointees. They were given 30 days from enactment of the law, which is Saturday.


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