Medical marijuana bill makes its way to Statehouse

Mike Klesta

A bill making its way through the state Senate could make medical marijuana a reality — but don’t count on it.

Sen. Bob Hagan, D-Youngstown, proposed the bill in hopes of providing another option for pain relief, but his legislative aide Gregg Paul said the bill was a political hot potato.

“Anytime you want to ease up on drugs, there’s talk about the slippery slope, and next thing you know little Johnny’s smoking crack in the back alley,” Paul said.

But the bill doesn’t involve use of marijuana for all. Instead, Paul said, marijuana could be recommended to patients suffering from chronic pain or extreme nausea.

State Senator Jim Jordan, chairman of the judiciary-criminal justice committee, will hear debate over Hagan’s bill in the near future. Jordan’s administrative aide, Michelle Sweringer, said Jordan is firmly against the bill.

“He thinks it’s better to keep drugs like this away from Ohioans,” Sweringer said.

Jordan is an open person but will probably not be convinced to accept medical marijuana, she said.

Opponents of medical marijuana tout other drugs on the market that work the same as marijuana, but Paul said those options are extremely expensive. Marinol, which has been around for a number of years, costs some patients $1,000 per month. Marijuana can be grown and harvested for a fraction of the cost, Paul said.

Dr. Eugene Schoenfeld runs a practice in Sausalito, Calif., just north of San Francisco. Schoenfeld, like all medical doctors in California, can recommend that patients use marijuana to treat certain ailments, but he can’t prescribe the drug because it isn’t found in pharmacies, and federal regulations don’t allow it.

He said he isn’t surprised by the controversy in Ohio because California still has problems. Former Attorney General Janet Reno punished and sometimes imprisoned doctors who recommended medical marijuana in the ’90s, Schoenfeld said. Because of that, there is still some hesitation to use it to treat medical problems.

State regulations require Schoenfeld to recommend marijuana only after other treatments are tried, often to treat cancer pain or wasting disease, which stifles hunger. Marijuana could help increase the patient’s appetite.

But Schoenfeld by no means recommends marijuana for all situations.

“If someone came to me for bipolar disorder, marijuana wouldn’t be the first thing I’d use to treat it,” Schoenfeld said.

Schoenfeld said California has set up some guidelines for medical marijuana use:

Recommendations to use marijuana typically last six months but can go up to a year.

The patient can obtain the marijuana however he or she can get it. A patient with a recommendation won’t be prosecuted for using the marijuana even if the drug is obtained from an illegal source.

Patients can grow their own marijuana, and it’s legal to have six mature plants or 12 immature plants. It’s legal to have up to a half a pound of dried marijuana.

Gregg said Sen. Hagan became sensitive to the medical marijuana debate when his father was put on a morphine drip for cancer treatment. Hagan would have done anything to help his father, including use marijuana, Gregg said.

The debate is sure to continue, but Gregg said he’d bet some heavy painkillers are more addictive than marijuana is. He said 10 other states have passed similar legislation, so Ohio wouldn’t be going into uncharted territory.

Contact public affairs reporter Mike Klesta at [email protected].