Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Task Force (“Task Force”) continued to hear testimony on Thursday, February 25, 2016, as eleven individuals provided their thoughts related to medical cannabis in Ohio.  Most of the testimony was from proponents of medical cannabis, while one opponent, Captain Jeffrey Orr of the Trumbull County Sheriff’s Office, and one interested party, Dr. Anup Patel of Nationwide Children’s Hospital and The Ohio State University College of Medicine, offered alternative perspectives.

Dr. Patel’s testimony was of particular interest to the Task Force, as it lasted over forty-five minutes and included an open dialogue between Task Force members and Dr. Patel regarding his clinical studies using purified cannabidiol (CBD) compounds to treat severe epilepsy in children.  Dr.  Patel stated that the clinical studies he is leading at Nationwide Children’s Hospital are one of only two such studies sanctioned by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for CBD use to combat epilepsy in children.  Early indicators from his study suggest that CBD could reduce seizure frequency and has an adequate safety profile. Dr. Patel stressed that his research on the use of purified CBD extracts is different than that of “whole-plant” applications of medical cannabis, which he says have not received the same FDA review as CBD-only studies.  Dr. Patel’s research, along with others in the scientific community, seeks to determine the efficacy of purified CBD treatments (which contain none of the psychoactive ingredients in whole-plant medical cannabis), and Dr. Patel urged the Task Force to be cautious in crafting a legislative framework that legalizes anything without adequate scientific research to support its use.  Later testimony challenged some of Dr. Patel’s assertions, noting that the dearth of FDA sanctioned studies on whole-plant applications of medical cannabis is a direct result of the plant’s status as a Schedule I controlled substance under the Controlled Substances Act.

Of the evening’s proponent testimony, Dr. Michelle Price, a Dayton pharmacist, and Tamara Dietrich, of Scottsdale, Arizona’s Beacon Information Designs, provided particularly  interesting perspectives.  Dr. Price spoke at length about the historical use of medical cannabis in the US prior to its prohibition, the US Department of Health’s patent on medical cannabis, and some of the global research done on the endocannabinoid system.

Ms. Dietrich offered expertise regarding the need for a strong regulatory structure supported by information systems to track and maintain the entire medical cannabis system and infrastructure. Beacon Information Designs has done extensive research on this subject for the State of Arizona, and Ms. Dietrich provided the Task Force with much of this information, as well as offered her own opinions on which state regulatory structures have been successful.  For example, Ms. Dietrich spoke about her home state of Arizona’s lack of required testing, and the issues it has caused within the medical cannabis supply chain.   She also spoke about the perceived unfairness behind provisions of the Nevada medical cannabis law that only permit “homegrown” cannabis for patients who live twenty-five miles from a licensed dispensary.  Task Force member Lora Miller (Ohio Council of Retail Merchants) engaged Ms. Dietrich in dialogue regarding whether Ohio should have physician education requirements for recommending medical cannabis to patients, similar to laws in Maryland or New York.

Captain Orr’s opponent testimony began with him holding two bags of police-seized cannabis representing the two maximum weights for the two lowest misdemeanor criminal charges for possession of cannabis in Ohio.  The gesture grabbed the Task Force’s attention, and at times Captain Orr’s testimony took the tone of a cross examination as Task Force member Chris Stock (Markovits, Stock & DeMarco) probed Captain Orr regarding his proffered knowledge of an increased black market for cannabis in states that have recreation cannabis use.  After a repeated line of questioning by Mr. Stock, Captain Orr admitted to having never visited or raided dispensaries in any of these states but stated that he had worked with law enforcement joint-task forces in those states to bolster his testimony.

Of all the proponent testimonies, the most impactful may have come from the night’s last, as Patrick Rogers of Dayton limped to the podium to offer his heart wrenching story.  As a young cancer survivor, Mr. Rogers discussed how he traded being cancer free for a life of bone disease and other various painful afflictions that he said was caused by his cancer radiation treatments. He articulately spoke on how his personal use of medical cannabis has allowed him to walk relatively pain free, maintain a 40 hour a week job, and be a productive, tax paying citizen of Ohio.  Without access to medical cannabis, Mr. Rogers said he would be unable to move and provide for his family, and urged the Task Force to permit legal home grown medical cannabis.

The Task Force is off the week of February 29, but will resume with its final three sessions on Thursday, March 10 at 7 p.m., Thursday, March 17 at 3 p.m., and Thursday, March 31 at 3 p.m..