- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 19, 2016

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) - Polling is now consistently showing that a strong majority of Ohioans favor the legalization of marijuana for medicinal purposes, inspiring a steady stream of ballot proposals that would lift the state’s current prohibition.

With that as a backdrop, the Republican-led Ohio House has offered a bill that legalizes medical marijuana and put it on a fast track. The goal is to get something into law by summer, before any November vote asking voters to amend a program into Ohio’s constitution. A look at the issue:

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LEGISLATIVE HISTORY

Former state lawmaker Bob Hagan, a Youngstown Democrat, introduced medical marijuana legislation each session starting around 2005. He continued the effort as both a state senator and state representative. One year, displaying his sense of humor, Hagan tacked on a “joint resolution” to his perennial offering. The bills never went anywhere. Hagan told reporters that some Republican colleagues in the GOP-controlled Legislature favored the idea but looked upon it as political suicide. That landscape has changed as 24 states have legalized medical marijuana and it’s become increasingly accepted by the public.

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THE NEW BILL

State Rep. Stephen Huffman, a doctor and Tipp City Republican, introduced a 66-page medical marijuana legalization bill April 14. It would allow doctors certified by the commission to recommend edibles, patches, plant material and oils. Home growing would be prohibited. The bill establishes a nine-member Medical Marijuana Control Commission to create rules for cultivating, distributing, dispensing and taxing cannabis and then to regulate the program. The legislation allows communities to opt out of hosting dispensaries and protects from liability employers who want to maintain drug-free workplaces. A select committee was starting work on the measure Tuesday. It wants to get the bill to the Senate by month’s end and to the governor’s desk before summer.

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WHAT FEDERAL LAW SAYS

Marijuana is still classified as a dangerous illegal narcotic under federal law. The Ohio legislation would urge the federal government to reduce that classification, which has also been the cry of other states. The legislation creates a safe haven for financial institutions that loan money to marijuana-related businesses, a provision that addresses complications experienced by other states as a result of the federal law.

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SUPPORT

A broad coalition of business, labor, law enforcement, pro-medical marijuana and health organizations is getting behind the House measure. A legislative task force appointed by Republican Speaker Cliff Rosenberger heard nearly 24 hours of testimony that state Rep. Kirk Schuring, its chairman, said is incorporated into the House legislation. Backers of the bill believe changing Ohio law - as opposed to the state constitution - is a superior route to legalization because tweaks can more easily be made to the program as lessons are learned. Rules and regulations for the program would also be run through a public rule-making process over about a year’s time.

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OPPOSITION

The Medical Marijuana Project, a national organization campaigning for a constitutional amendment this fall that would legalize medical marijuana in Ohio, said it has no intention of dropping its effort and signing on to the House process. The group points out the long history of legalization bills that went nowhere. The organization said that it employs some of the nation’s top experts on marijuana law and that its Ohio proposal incorporates the best aspects of medicinal marijuana programs around the country. The Ohio State Medical Association, the state’s largest physician-led group, also opposes the bill. Its members favor marijuana-derived medicines that have been tested in clinical trials.

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THE BILL’S CHANCES

With the backing of Rosenberger, this bill will definitely clear his chamber. Its fate in the Senate is less clear. Senate President Keith Faber has reserved the right of his chamber to change - or outright reject - the legalization of medical marijuana. Republican Gov. John Kasich, who is running for president, has also been noncommittal thus far.

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