Medical Pot - Putnam Sentinel

OHIO — On November 30, 2017 the last of the 24 available licenses for growing marijuana intended for medical usage in Ohio were awarded. All together, 109 level I, large grower applications were received by the state, along with 76 level II, small grower applications. This resulted in $2,332,000 collected in application fees (separate from the annual licensing fees of $18,000 for small operations and $180,000 for large operations per approved grower). In addition, these potential growers submitted detailed business, operations, quality assurance, security and financial plans for review.

All of this was but one step towards the establishment of a medical marijuana program which state law requires to be operational by September 8 of this year. Now, however, U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions has cast doubt on the entire enterprise. In a guidance issued on January 4, Sessions rescinded the Obama-era approach that protected marijuana businesses from federal prosecution so long as they were in compliance with state laws. He has further indicated his intentions to prosecute these businesses in an effort to rollback the expansion of legal marijuana.

However, not all U.S. Attorney’s are onboard with Session’s new plans. As reported by public radio station WOSU, the U.S. Attorney for the Southern District of Ohio, Ben Glassman, does not intend to change his approach, stating that he will focus his office on where he can, “Make the biggest impact in reducing harm and promoting public safety.” Glassman also reportedly noted that, “The opioid epidemic is the public health and safety crisis of our lifetime. I’ve also pointed out the disturbing increase in stimulant drugs like cocaine and methamphetamine, and the Attorney General’s made clear that he fully supports our efforts on these fronts.”

Glassman is not the only public official to reference the opioid epidemic when discussing medical marijuana in Ohio. “Ohio’s medical marijuana initiative created a robust set of regulations on the industry and was crafted through an open legislative process of nearly two years,” said State Senator Robert McColley (R, 1st District) in a statement from his office. “In light of the many positive health outcomes that were highlighted throughout the legislative process, including the fact that medical marijuana has been shown to reduce opioid related deaths in other states, I would hope the federal government would engage in a thoughtful conversation with the states about how we should all proceed with the public’s best interest in mind. Although we cannot predict what decisions the federal government will agree to, our legislature will continue to prioritize the safety and well-being of all Ohioan’s throughout the state.”

The Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program established by the state intends to move forward with its work as well. As indicated by a statement provided by Grant Miller, the Education and Outreach Coordinator for Ohio’s Board of Pharmacy, “The Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program is following the legislative guidelines set up by HB523. Our responsibility is to fulfill all statutory mandates in establishing Ohio’s medical marijuana program. The Program cannot speculate on any decisions made at the federal level, but our program officials will continue to monitor any developments.”

A 2016 study by John Hopkins University noted a 25 percent reduction in opioid overdoses in the first year for states that have legalized medical marijuana. A separate study published on April 3 of 2017 by the journal of Drug and Alcohol Dependence found states with medical marijuana saw hospitalizations caused by opioid abuse drop by 23 percent, and there was an 11 percent drop in opioid overdoses in those states as well. A similar study examining Medicare Part D prescription data found a significant drop in prescriptions of drugs to treat anxiety, depression, nausea, pain, psychosis, seizures, sleep disorders and spasticity in states with legalized marijuana. Indicating that marijuana may be replacing prescribed drugs that are known to have more significant side effects.

The additional worries surrounding drugged driving and the potential increase in marijuana usage by young people have so-far not occurred in states which have legalized the drug for either medical or recreational usage, though studies remain ongoing. As reported by CBS News, in his memo rescinding the previous guidance on marijuana, Sessions noted a study that showed a 20 percent increase in marijuana usage by young people in 2014 in Colorado. However, that same study Sessions referenced ran through 2016, and it actually reported an overall 13 percent reduction in those under the age of 18 using marijuana.

The U.S. Attorney for Ohio’s Northern District, Justin Herdeman’s office was also contacted by phone and asked how his office might respond to the Attorney General’s new guidance. No response was received by press time.