Should Smoking Medical Marijuana Remain Illegal in Ohio? [Editorial]
[Editorial] Ohio's medical marijuana bill, Ohio HB 523, was signed into law by Governor John Kasich on September 8, 2016. This exciting new bill allows patients to use marijuana to treat 21 pre-approved health conditions, including chronic pain, IBS, PTSD and cancer. Tucked within the 86-page text of the bill is a rule that strictly prohibits the smoking or combustion of medical marijuana. The bill does, however, allow patients to vaporize cannabis flower, in addition to waxes and oils. Ohio medical marijuana can also be purchased in edibles, topical creams and gels, as well as tinctures, which can be placed on food or taken through sublingual administration (under the tongue).
So, how is the State of Ohio going to enforce the smoking restriction? That's a question we at Ohio Marijuana Card get several times a day from our concerned patients. And it's a tough question to answer.
While we at Ohio Marijuana Card firmly believe that it is healthier to vaporize plant material, we understand why this debate has emerged. For starters, vaporizers can be expensive. And edibles and tinctures can take several hours before they begin to work, meaning many patients have to wait for their relief, or wind up eating too much, resulting in a less than desired effect. And just from a financial standpoint, for many patients it's simply easier and more affordable to smoke marijuana, despite obvious health concerns. After all, a lighter and some rolling papers cost less than $5, while a decent mid-range vaporizer might run a medical marijuana patient upwards of $50-100.
At current, it is not clear how exactly Ohio plans to enforce their no-smoking rule. Many critics have even suggested that the rule is both arbitrary and difficult, even impossible, to enforce outside of a patient having their home inspected (which would require probable cause), or being caught by law enforcement in plain sight, smoking or combusting their medical marijuana. But since using your legal cannabis in public is already prohibited under Federal law, how will police and state officials monitor how patients ingest their medical marijuana?
Clues from other states may provide an answer ... they can't, not entirely. And the courts may eventually agree.
In recent years, Florida passed their own medical marijuana law. In this law, there is also a regulation banning smoking or combustion of medical marijuana. Eventually, this rule was challenged in court by a trail lawyer and a group of plaintiffs. They filed a motion to appeal this regulation, claiming that the rule is unconstitutional. While this appeal seems to have been shot down by courts, and smoking is still prohibited, this is the first of what will likely be many challenges against the State.
Also, Oklahoma's medical marijuana bill initially prohibited smoking and combustion of marijuana, but after complaints, the Oklahoma Board of Health eased their restrictions to remove this ban.
It would seem that smoking medical marijuana has quickly escalated into a hot button issue among pro-pot supporters -- and it's an issue that might just bridge the political divide, allowing for common ground between parties. Libertarians or pro-pot conservatives view the issue as a restriction of their personal freedoms. Caffeine, for example, can be dangerous to the body but there are generally no restrictions on how much or what methods you can use to consume caffeine. Liberal-minded political opponents view the smoking ban as a violation of their civil liberties, regardless of the negative health effects. They view bans like these as a form of oppression and a means to arrest marijuana users. Regardless of the spectrum, it would seem marijuana patients want the choice to consume medial marijuana however they see fit.
Unfortunately, Ohio has crafted a few additional provisions that make appealing this ban somewhat difficult. According to Sec. 3796.061 of HB 523, "Any person may submit a petition to the state board of pharmacy requesting that a form of or method of using medical marijuana
be approved for the purposes of section 3796.06 of the Revised Code. A Sub. H. B. No. 523 131st G.A.21 petition shall be submitted to the board in a manner prescribed by the board.
A petition shall not seek to approve a method of using medical marijuana that involves smoking or combustion."
The bill also goes on to state, "The state board of pharmacy may approve additional methods of using medical marijuana, other than smoking or combustion, under section 3796.061 of the Revised Code."
In lesser words, Ohio is ready for a fight on the issue of smoking medical marijuana and they've already shored up their bill to prevent any appeals to the smoking ban. That said, prevention of the appeals process could be deemed unconstitutional as well, provided there's a star lawyer out there willing to tackle that case in state courts.
Smoking marijuana is one of the oldest methods for consuming cannabis, dating back literally thousands of years to roughly 1100 AD ancient Khorasan, in Persia, where smoking hash became popular, eventually spreading throughout the Middle East. It's definitely not the best (or healthiest) method for THC and CBD delivery, but patients should be allowed to make that choice themselves. And with it being nearly impossible for law enforcement to check if a medical marijuana user is smoking or vaping their weed, outside of testing the patient by swabbing their mouth or catching sight of a patient smoking, it's not likely much will come from the smoking ban beyond minor inconvenience.
In the meantime, per Ohio law, Ohio Marijuana Card and its skilled staff of certified doctors cannot recommend, or even advise that patients smoke marijuana. But we do empathize and understand why so many patients prefer this method -- whether it's out of habit or perhaps it's just the best way your body responds to cannabis. We will keep you posted on whether Ohio lawmakers or the State Medical Board of Ohio amends the law to remove the smoking ban, or whether this ban is here to stay. As always, watch this space!