Ohio Medical Marijuana Program Headed In Wrong Direction, Former Advisory Committee Member Says

Photo Credit: Miami New Times

A member of Ohio’s medical marijuana advisory committee who quit last week warned that the new program won’t work as legislators intended.

Ted Bibart, a Columbus-area attorney who was appointed to represent patients on the committee, said the advisory panel has had little opportunity to help craft rules and regulations for the program.

“My fear is that, in the absence of a strong commission of the type originally contemplated by House Bill 523, the Ohio program is headed the way of New York and Illinois, programs debilitated by bureaucracy that have failed to provide adequate patient access and physician participation,” Bibart wrote in his resignation letter to House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger.

New York and Illinois are frequently cited as examples for having programs with restrictions that limit the eligible patient population, which makes products harder to get and more expensive for patients.

When the medical marijuana bill passed the House in 2016, it created a commission to set up and regulate the program for patients, marijuana businesses and physicians. But the Senate wanted existing state agencies to develop the program.

The final version of the bill compromised by dividing the work among three agencies — the Ohio State Medical Board, Board of Pharmacy and Department of Commerce — and establishing an advisory committee to provide feedback to regulators.

The 14-member committee included physicians, pharmacists, a nurse, a county sheriff and representatives for patient and caregiver communities. The committee did not draft rules and regulations and had no authority to make changes.

Bibart was one of the more outspoken and critical members of the committee. He said committee members didn’t receive meeting materials in advance and didn’t have any working sessions to discuss or debate proposed details of the program.

“The end result is that this strong group of interdisciplinary experts has been left with a forum that is ill-equipped to consider, discuss and develop substantive policy recommendations for presentation to the regulators,” Bibart wrote.

In an interview, Bibart said Ohio’s program should have been shaped by learning from what’s worked and what hasn’t worked in other states. He said that hasn’t happened with the state’s three-pronged approach to writing the rules and regulations.

The Department of Commerce is “responsible for standing up a safe, patient-centered, transparent and sustainable program as outlined in House Bill 523,” a spokeswoman said in response to Bibart’s opinion of the program.

The law sets a Sept. 8 deadline to get the program up and running, but when legislators passed the law, they anticipated it would be operational before then.

The Department of Commerce awarded provisional cultivation licenses to 24 companies in November. The Pharmacy Board will award licenses to up to 57 dispensaries statewide; Bibart and others have questioned whether that’s enough to serve patients.