On June 8, 2016 Ohio Governor John Kasich signed into law House Bill 523 (Act), legalizing medical marijuana. The Ohio Legislature, faced with the prospect of a constitutional amendment through a ballot initiative this November, took preemptive action. Although a sweeping ballot initiative last November was soundly defeated, polls indicate that a vast majority of Ohioans are sympathetic to marijuana use for medical purposes. Instead of a short ballot initiative, the Legislature enacted a comprehensive framework for prescription (called a recommendation) by physicians, creation of dedicated dispensaries and regulation of the manufacturing process. The Act is slated to go into effect in September 2016, though that may be overly optimistic. In any case, the Act orders that dispensing must begin within two years, or by June 2018. However, patients who lawfully obtain permitted forms of marijuana from the other 24 states that have legalized medical marijuana will not be prosecuted after September 6, 2016.

The regulatory apparatus is shared between by numerous agencies. The Commerce Department will license growers and regulate manufacture. The Board of Pharmacy will regulate dosages, license dispensaries and register users. In fact, there will be considerable tracking of users, including a potential process for background checks.

Doctors who have gone through a training program will be able to “recommend” marijuana for a patient suffering from a prescribed list of illnesses, including cancer, chronic pain, seizures, Crohn’s and ALS. The recommendation can include edibles as well as oils, which can be vaporized. Smoking and growing will not be permitted.

From an employment perspective, nothing has actually changed. The Act affirms that employers may continue to set drug policy, including drug testing and maintaining a drug-free workplace and zero tolerance, including for marijuana. However, employers may decide to adopt a more lenient attitude toward employees who are using marijuana under a doctor’s guidance, as they might for an employee using other approved drugs such as cancer or chronic pain medications. Of course, as with other prescription drugs in the workplace, safety concerns must be addressed. In any case, the issue is upon us and it is a good opportunity for employers to review all drug-related policies, such as onboarding drug tests, injury reporting policies, leave of absence policies, and, in particular, policies regarding the use of legally prescribed drugs, which many employers do not have.