Just last month, Ohio became the 25th state to legalize medical marijuana – making it official that half of the country has taken the step to legalize medical marijuana and more will be voting on initiatives to do the same in November – it’s going to be a good year for medical marijuana patients around the U.S. There are, of course, always a few delays when things first get started and that is no different with the program taking root in Ohio.
The law will go into effect in September, however, patients will not be able to get access right away as there are currently no regulations set up for registering patients, let alone growing facilities, testing labs and dispensaries. Until these things are in place, it will be difficult for patients who have been waiting on this medicine already. Even if they tried to get medical marijuana from out of state, the nearest state with an up-and-running program is Michigan, who currently only sells to patients of Michigan and Pennsylvania.
On the other hand, lawmakers are preparing to start determining who will be able to be licensed to grow the medical marijuana and in what quantities they will be able to grow it. Once the plants are in the ground they will be creating an identification process for both patients and caregivers – and after all that it will be time to start working on licensing dispensaries so patients will finally have legal access to the medicine they need.
Until then, patients will likely have to go without, drive a ridiculous ways away to a state where they can purchase it legally (though that also risks crossing multiple state lines with a Schedule I controlled substance, so few would do this even if it is an option) or they will resort to the black market. The entire process, from creating restrictions for cultivators to getting dispensary doors open is expected to take about two years – right on par with similar programs, such as the one in Pennsylvania that legalized medical marijuana back in April.
In all the excitement of having a medical marijuana program finally becoming a reality for patients in Ohio, there is also a legitimate worry that patients should keep in mind. Medical marijuana users, registered with the state or not, will not be protected in the case of termination due to positive drug test or other related reasons. Being terminated automatically disqualifies you from unemployment benefits, so patients are at risk if they work in a place with drug free policies.
Medical marijuana activists, as well as civil rights activists, are upset that there is no form of protection for patients – while businesses can choose to fire you because the only medicine that works for you is federally illegal. While I can see the reasoning behind not allowing medical marijuana use on the clock in a number of different professions, employees should not be penalized for using a medicine that works for them outside of work hours.
At the very least, perhaps a compromise could have been made, allowing those terminated for medical marijuana related reasons to be eligible for unemployment, but must seek new employment. However, unless federal law changes, something like that is unlikely to happen. For now, patients should be aware of these facts so that they can prepare themselves in the event that they are fired for their off-the-clock use of medical marijuana.
For the time being, patients still have some waiting to do in the state of Ohio. Had the campaign attempting to get a legalization measure on the ballot stuck around, perhaps patients would have been allowed to grow at home prior to dispensaries being opened. Unfortunately that is not the case, but hopefully Ohio lawmakers are intent on sticking to their 2 year plan – and perhaps they will speed it up a bit as a way to thank the patients for waiting so long.