When Governor John Kasich signed House Bill 523, legalizing marijuana for medical use, into law in June of 2016, it was enacted without a lot of communication of details or guidance on how it would be administered. Knowing it would officially go into effect in 90 days, municipalities across the state rushed to impose moratoriums or bans on the new law until they had a chance to study and fully understand it. Adding to the complexity and confusion of the issue was, despite now being legal in Ohio and 27 other states, medical marijuana is still illegal under federal law. It is classified as a Schedule I narcotic by the federal government, on a par with cocaine and heroin, determined to be being highly addictive and having no medicinal value.
To help with this understanding the Swanton Area Community Coalition (SACC) organized and helped sponsor a presentation titled Medical Marijuana and YOUR Business held in the Swanton Community Center on Tuesday, February 7. They enlisted the help of HR Systems, an organization that works with businesses to develop and administrate employee policies and the firm of Bugbee & Conkle, a law firm that specializes in labor relations. Among the attendees were local business representatives and law enforcement officials.
Mr. Mark Barnes, an attorney with Bugbee & Conkle, gave the bulk of the presentation and explained, in some detail, how medical marijuana relates to businesses and their employees. Not surprisingly, it will likely be treated the same way alcohol is in the work place, even if it has been prescribed by a physician. Individuals may be denied employment, put on suspension or terminated if they test positive for marijuana. Additionally, if they are injured on the job and found to be under the influence they will be denied Workman’s Compensation and, if terminated, denied unemployment.
There will be some time, however, for businesses to incorporate medical marijuana into their policy books. Mr. Barnes explained that while the law was put on the books on September 8, 2016 it is not ready to be implemented. “It’s not up and rolling. Not even close,” he said. “It’s not really going to go into effect any earlier than September 8, 2018. The law simply states that every effort has to be made to implement it by that date.”
There are several state agencies that will oversee the cultivation, processing, laboratory testing, prescribing selling and distribution of the drug. Drafts regarding the procedures, rules and regulations for these steps to the market have been written but still face a long process of committee scrutiny, public input and approval. It is why the State of Ohio estimates at least two years before full implementation.
The related topics of recreational marijuana use and medical marijuana abuse were also addressed during the presentation by SACC Executive Director Andrea Smith when she provided the audience with a list of short term and long term damaging health effects of the drug. She also passed out several samples of everyday food items such as popcorn and Gummy Bears that contained marijuana to illustrate the many unsuspecting forms used to ingest or administer the drug. The new law does not allow the smoking of marijuana but it will be available in oil and pill form.
Currently, there are eight states that have laws allowing the use of recreational marijuana and some concerns that Ohio may soon follow that trend was expressed during the meeting. When asked if he thought the new legislation was possibly just a “gateway” law Mr. Barnes responded, “They are all gateway laws. That is the trend in the country.”
There is a group that is working to have an amendment to the Ohio Constitution put on the ballot in November of 2017 that will allow the use of marijuana. It will not be known until sometime this summer if they will be able to garner enough signatures to be included in the next general election.
The national trend and overall attitude toward marijuana use was a major reason SACC put together the presentation. “I’ve seen so many red flags. There is so much potential for something bad to happen,” said Ms. Smith commenting on medical marijuana. They (local youth) are going to have access to it. Just like the opiates. Some of our youth are stealing from people that have it. So we need to take a proactive approach to this as a community.”
However, if recreational marijuana does become legal in Ohio Ms. Smith will take the pragmatic approach to dealing with it much like her organization does with alcohol and other legal drugs by using education and increasing awareness. “If it comes through one day it will be the only effective thing we can do,” she said.
To learn more about the new law go to the website medicalmarijana.ohio.gov or datia.org
Bill O’Connell may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org