By Ted Bibart, Legislative Analyst
The first evening session of the Ohio House of Representatives’ Medical Marijuana Task Force (“Task Force”) didn’t conclude until after 10.30 p.m., but the testimony was provocative and the questions illuminating. While our separate post focuses on the poignant medical testimony provided, and its intersection with regulatory solutions, this piece focuses on the most relevant anecdotal testimony provided by local government officials, as well as patient advocates whose personal insights provided a unique glimpse into the needs of Ohio citizens who could benefit from medical cannabis.
Blue Ash City Councilman Robert Ryan was the first of two local government officials to testify in favor of legalizing medical cannabis. As a retired aerospace systems engineer with a career in satellite and propulsion design, as well as a three-time cancer survivor and leader of the Ohio Patient Network (“OPN”), Ryan has extensive knowledge on both the medicinal value of cannabis and state regulatory solutions. In fact, before returning to Ohio, Ryan was author of the Maryland Republican party’s medical cannabis resolutions that paved the way for an early medical marijuana bill signed by Maryland’s Governor. After hearing his personal testimony regarding his use of medical cannabis to overcome his cancer symptoms, the Task Force was very interested in Ryan’s opinions as to the best legislative response to allowing Ohio in need access to cannabis. Dr. Brian Santin in support of Ryan’s opinion as to the appropriateness of self-titration in dosing medical cannabis, drew a useful analogy to insulin self-management by diabetic patients.
Later, Franklin County Municipal Court Judge Ted Barrows testified in support of medical cannabis legalization. While Judge Barrows was more than willing to profess his belief that cannabis should be legalized beyond its medical uses, and managed, controlled, dispensed, and taxed similarly to alcohol, the Task Force limited his testimony to medicinal cannabis and Barrow’s professional opinion as to the immediate need for legislative action. Judge Barrows captured clearly a theme often professed from Task Force members, and at the root of the committee’s purpose, which is to deeply contemplate legislative action before another ballot initiative goes before Ohio voters this November. According to Judge Barrows, the main legal opposition to Issue 3, which failed to legalize both recreational and medicinal cannabis, was a constitutional amendment creating a state sanctioned oligopoly. Therefore, legalizing medicinal cannabis through the state legislature would be the most appropriate and measured response to meeting the needs of Ohioans and crippling the black market.
Nicole Scholten with Ohio Families CANN (“OFC”) spoke on behalf of her own 12 year old daughter Lucy, and other Ohio families of children who could benefit from the verifiable, medicinal benefits of cannabis. Lucy suffers intractable epilepsy (meaning that it is drug resistant), enduring an average of 100 seizures a day. According to Mrs. Scholten, no current treatment has eased the frequency or duration of her daughter’s seizure, an experience shared by roughly 1 million of the 3 million Americans with epilepsy.
As Scholten discussed the anecdotal evidence for Ohio families being forced to move to other states to seek medicinal cannabis therapy for their children, it was former Ohio Attorney General Betty Montgomery who first waded into the policy waters, away from the medical benefits of cannabis and into regulatory solutions allowing Ohio patients access to this much needed treatment. Montgomery was interested in Scholten’s opinion as to how to regulate medical cannabis to avoid its spread into recreational uses. Dr. Santin then joined Montgomery’s regulatory inquiries by asking about OFC’s collective experiences in the realm of doctor-patient relationships and dispensary protocols. Scholten provided her best anecdotal testimony from personal experience and that of other OFC families, but it is clear the ongoing regulatory questions of the Task Force will require comparative, statutory analysis from a policy perspective.
Patients, such as John Precup, and patient caregivers, such as Jean Taddie, testified as to the struggles of those in need of medical cannabis in the absence of responsible legislative action. Melissa Durkee provided heart wrenching testimony regarding her son Noah who is tortured by a treatment resistant form of Tourette’s Syndrome that has proven unresponsive to the 15 medications they have trialed to date. Mrs. Durkee testified that a dose of medical cannabis would reduce his tics and stabilize him enough to provide a vastly improved quality of life, as supported by the evidence of other patients in legal states using medical cannabis to treat this condition.
The testimony of all these witnesses, in conjunction with the scientific evidence presented by two respected medical doctors (including the foremost national expert on medical cannabis Dr. Sue Sisley, M.D. of Arizona), consistently advanced the discussion toward the regulatory framework necessary to support effective and controlled administration of medical cannabis to Ohioans in need. The questions of the Task Force clearly reflect a holistic approach to the policy implications at play with a focus on what is best for all of Ohio’s citizens.
 Ted Bibart, and the Benesch team, will continue to provide detailed analysis and comprehensive coverage of Task Force meetings and on-going developments surrounding the issue.