Medical Marijuana Legalization In Ohio Has Arrived, But Patients Can’t Get It For Two Years

While legal marijuana for medicinal purposes is now a reality for patients in Ohio, they won’t be able to get it for at least a year — likely more than two years. The state’s medical marijuana law protects patients from a potential drug possession charge as long as they have a doctor’s recommendation. However, most patients aren’t able to get the needed doctor’s approval for the treatment and obtaining medical cannabis legally is currently impossible.

On Thursday, medical cannabis in Ohio became legal, but much of the state’s guidelines to implement the program still need to be written. The regulations regarding growing, prescribing, and distributing medical pot aren’t expected to be completed until sometime late next year, leaving many questions from doctors, patients, law enforcement, and employers unanswered.

Patients in Ohio can use medical marijuana, but there is no legal way to get it. [Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images]

Ohio patients with certain health conditions, including AIDS, Alzheimer’s disease, and cancer, can legally use medical marijuana. Yet, no one knows for sure where patients can get it. No marijuana processors, dispensaries, or testing facilities have been approved by Ohio. Additionally, the law is unclear what happens if patients obtain medical cannabis from other states like Colorado, and doing so may violate federal law.

“The law is here — but that doesn’t mean that patients are going to be able to get marijuana any time soon,” said Aaron Marshall, of Ohioans for Legal Medical Marijuana. “The reality is that, right now, there are Ohioans that are using marijuana for medical purposes. They’re just doing it illegally.”

Under the law, patients can possess cannabis and related paraphernalia without fear of criminal prosecution as long as a doctor’s note can be provided. The physician must provide verification that a relationship with the patient exists as well as proof that a discussion about the benefits and dangers of cannabis took place with the patient.

Known as an “affirmative defense,” patients can protect themselves from being charged with a crime only if they are using specific forms of marijuana. Ohio’s medical marijuana law allows cannabis edibles, tinctures, oils, and patches, but not smoking of the plant. Yet, these approved forms could change, as the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy still has to decide on a final list.

While September 8 is the first day legal marijuana in Ohio can be recommended by physicians, most are waiting for fixed regulations to be determined. Until that happens, the Ohio State Medical Association, an organization that represents thousands of Ohio doctors, is telling members to take a wait-and-see stance before giving patients authorization to use medical marijuana.

“Doctors really are in limbo,” said Reginald Fields, a spokesman for the group. “There’s a little confusion out there, so we’re essentially asking physicians to stand by until some of these issues are clarified and we can assure they’re acting on the right side of the law.”

Despite Ohio’s medical marijuana law taking effect on September 8, many doctors remain reluctant to issue approvals for the treatment. [Photo by Uriel Sinai/Getty Images]

While Ohio’s medical marijuana legalization is currently ambiguous, police departments aren’t going to change procedures when it comes to enforcement of current laws. However, once the regulations are put in place, officers may not make an arrest at the scene if a doctor’s approval for medical marijuana can be provided, according to Ohio Fraternal Order of Police President Jay McDonald.

Ohio employers will also need to decide how to handle employees who use medical marijuana. Despite the new state law allowing people to purchase and consume the drug, it does not protect termination from their job.

“The law is clear that the employer has no expectation to accommodate use, possession or distribution of medical marijuana,” said Mike Griffaton, an attorney with the Vorys law firm in Columbus. “They can accommodate medical marijuana use if they want to. There’ll be some sorting out until this is up and running.”

Ohio’s law has a much slower implementation timetable than other states that have legalized medical marijuana, and a definite, complete program will not likely be operational until September 2018. The state has 30 days from today to create a Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee to help create regulations to put the program in place.

[Photo by Drew Angerer/Getty Images]

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