NewsBriefs BUTTONS

Ohio Medical Marijuana Provision Confounds Officials,Lawmakers Move to Repeal the Law


January 1997

On November 27, 1996, the Cincinnati Enquirer reported the discovery of a provision (Section 2925.11, Ohio Revised Code) in Ohio's new criminal sentencing law that allows for an "affirmative defense" for the medical use of marijuana. Although the new law took effect on July 1, officials denied knowing about the provision and announced they will to reverse it (Michael Hawthorne, "Pot law stuns legislators," Cincinnati Enquirer, November 27, 1996, p. B1; Paul Souhrada, "Ohio seeks to reverse law allowing medical defense for pot," Buffalo News, November 28, 1996, p. A17).

The measure does not prevent people from being charged with marijuana possession, but allows for a legal defense if the defendant has a physician's written recommendation to use marijuana for medical purposes. "This is the minimum you can do to show compassion for these patients," said John M. Hartman, president of the Northcoast NORML chapter of the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML) in Cleveland. So far, there is no indication that anyone has tried to invoke the new Ohio law.

Ohio officials appeared confounded by the provision. Former Ohio state Senator Tim Greenwood, who sponsored the sentencing bill, state Attorney General Betty Montgomery and Governor George Voinovich all denied knowing of the measure while the bill was being considered. "The provision was stuck in a bill that was 1,000 pages long," said Kathy Fleck, a spokeswoman for the governor. The provision was not a recommendation from the Ohio Criminal Sentencing Commission which proposed the bill after five years of study. Commission records show that Rep. David Hartley (D-Springfield) added the medical marijuana amendment later, but Hartley denied it. "It's interesting you want to blame a Democrat for a bill sponsored and passed by the Republicans," said Hartley.

The Attorney General's office immediately announced it would seek a bill to remove the provision. "I think there's a fear that a doctor with a particularly liberal idea of what an illness is may write prescriptions for marijuana willy-nilly," said Deputy Attorney General Mark Weaver. In early January, Ohio state Senator Louis Blessing (R-Cincinnati), Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, submitted a bill (SB-2) to remove the affirmative defense law for medical marijuana. For information regarding the bill, SB-2, contact Senator Louis Blessing's office at (614) 466-8068.

The Cincinnati Enquirer editorial board suggested that officials should slow down to see how the provision works. They wrote, "This modest little law won't open the floodgates to drug abuse -- and it could help ease the suffering of terminally ill patients" ("Pot luck: Ohio legislators shouldn't rush to weed out marijuana provision," Cincinnati Enquirer, December 21, 1996, p. A14).