The Ohio House of Representatives’ Medical Marijuana Task Force (“Task Force”) convened its first meeting on Thursday, January 28, 2016 at the state capitol, and members of Benesch were in attendance.

The Task Force was formally announced by House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger (R-Clarksville) in early January 2016, with the stated purpose of creating a bipartisan task force “to vet all sides of the issue” of medical cannabis use. The Task Force is intended to work in partnership with various business groups, medical experts, issue advocates, state legislators and others in considering these matters.

The Task Force meetings will attempt to gather information and share policy perspectives from experts regarding a potential legislative and regulatory framework for the provision of medical cannabis to patients in Ohio. The Task Force is tasked with making a legislative proposal for consideration by the full House of Representatives by March 31, 2016.

The Task Force’s initial meeting was focused on procedural and organizational matters. No testimony was given by interested parties, but opening statements were provided from each of the Task Force members in attendance.[2]  State Representative Kirk Schuring (R-Canton) echoed prior statements by Speaker Rosenberger – that the Ohio legislature has heard from Ohioans all over the state who desire to have “a conversation” regarding the use of cannabis for medicinal purposes, and that the Task Force’s goal is to “bring to the forefront” opinions, information and knowledge on all sides of the issue.

Future meetings of the Task Force are anticipated to include more substantive engagement and testimony from experts on all sides of the topic. The Task Force will hold six more meetings prior to its March 31st reporting deadline, which can be expected to last approximately three hours each. Subsequent meetings will be held at the Ohio Statehouse on the following dates and times:

  • Thursday, February 11th at 3 p.m.
  • Thursday, February 18th at 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, February 25th at 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 10th at 7 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 17th at 3 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 31st at 3 p.m.

All of the Task Force members in attendance stressed an open mindedness with respect to any preconceived notions of cannabis. The fifteen-member Task Force is chaired by Rep. Schuring and includes the following additional legislators and other interested parties chosen by Speaker Rosenberger and Rep. Schuring:

  1. State Representative, and physician, Dr. Steve Huffman (R-Tipp City)
  2. State Representative Dan Ramos (D-Lorain)
  3.  Dr. Brian Santin, of the Ohio State Medical Association
  4. Nick Lashutka, president of the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association
  5. Betty Montgomery, former Ohio Attorney General
  6. Chris Stock, issue advocate and primary author of Issue 3
  7. Jimmy Gould, co-founder of ResponsibleOhio / Issue 3
  8. Bill Sopko, chair of the Ohio Manufacturers’ Association
  9. Lora Miller, Ohio Council of Retail Merchants
  10. Linda Hondros, Ohio Chamber of Commerce
  11. Matt Szollosi, Affiliated Construction Trades (ACT OHIO)
  12. Larry Moliterno, Ohio Alliance of Recovery Providers
  13. Gary Wolske, Fraternal Order of Police of Ohio (FOP)
  14. Matt Lutz, Muskingum County Sheriff and third vice president of the Buckeye State Sheriffs’ Association

The Ohio legislature’s actions in creating the Task Force (along with a parallel “town hall” style information-gathering effort in the Ohio Senate) are largely in response to increased interest in the topic of medical cannabis from various interests across Ohio, including the controversial “Issue 3” ballot initiative backed by the group Responsible Ohio, which failed to legalize recreational and medical cannabis use last November. Such efforts are set against the backdrop of a rapidly changing national landscape on the regulatory treatment of medical, recreational and industrial uses for the cannabis plant.  Twenty-three states have already legalized some form of medical cannabis use (including several of Ohio’s neighbors, such as Michigan, New York, and Illinois) and four states and the nation’s capital, Washington, D.C., have also legalized recreational use of cannabis.

If medical cannabis use is legalized in some capacity in Ohio, whether by the legislature or through one of several ballot initiatives being contemplated by varying interest groups, it could have broad impacts on medical professionals, patients, businesses, employers and Ohio residents generally. By getting ahead of the issue on the legislative side, the Ohio legislature may be able to better control the resulting legal framework and market structure than it would if medical or recreational cannabis were approved by voters through a constitutional amendment adopted by ballot initiative.