Though House Bill 523, Ohio’s medical marijuana bill, would take months or years to take full effect, and it hasn’t been signed into law by Gov. John Kasich yet, some at Ohio State are already gearing up for the research opportunities that could come from the legislation.
That’s because the government affairs team at OSU’s Wexner Medical Center worked to ensure those opportunities could arise.
Government affairs worked with state Sen. Frank Larose on parts of the bill related to who will fill the to-be-created medical marijuana advisory committee, said Jennifer Carlson, assistant vice president for government affairs for the Wexner Medical Center, in an email.
This included “(amending) the legislation to address the needs of research by adding academic researcher to the advisory committee,” Carlson said.
The term “academic researcher,” Carlson said, was modified as well, to include someone, “who can be a practitioner or nonpractitioner; a Ph.D-, MD- or masters-level researcher.”
The bill creates an advisory committee on medical marijuana within the state board of pharmacy. The pharmacy board and Department of Commerce handle much of the regulation of medical marijuana, according to the bill’s text.
Though the Department of Commerce and pharmacy board won’t be able to regulate marijuana research in the new bill, Carlson said the move was necessary for research interests.
“It is important for the regulatory boards to understand the current state of academic medical research related to the use of marijuana for medicinal purposes,” Carlson said. “This person will help inform the advisory committee on evidence based practices when creating Ohio’s medical marijuana control program.”
Sen. LaRose is an OSU alumnus and is on the Government Oversight and Reform committee, one of the committees where the bill was submitted. His district is also home to the Ohio Agricultural Research and Development Center as well as the Ohio State Agricultural Technical Institute.
The bill passed in the Senate 18-15, with LaRose, a Republican representing northeast Ohio’s 27th district, being one of the votes in favor.
“As a Buckeye myself, I recognize that Ohio State leads the nation in research,” LaRose said of clearing the way for university research across the state. “And I know the folks and have a level of trust with the folks that work in government affairs at Ohio State.”
For LaRose, working with OSU was a matter of convenience and confidence.
“Sometimes in the legislature, things move very fast, and you don’t want to get information you can’t verify or trust,” he said. “And I want to do what I can to advance OARDC and ATI.”
Jan Weisenberger, senior vice president for research at OSU’s Office for Research was pleased with the bill.
“Ohio State has been following the progress of the medical marijuana bill with great interest,” Weisenberger said in an email, “because we want to ensure that our researchers do have the ability to do research on the uses of medical marijuana if they should decide to do so.”
Though the bill has narrow restrictions on how marijuana can be used — it won’t be able to be smoked — and on who can use it (a predetermined list of medical conditions determines access) the opportunities for research are largely unrestricted.
The bill reads:
“This chapter does not authorize the department of commerce or the state board of pharmacy to oversee or limit research conducted at a state university, academic medical center or private research and development organization that is related to marijuana and is approved by an agency, board, center, department or institute of the United States government…”
Carlson, who also worked with this portion of the bill, said too much oversight could endanger research.
“Medical research is scrutinized already and must meet institutional review board standards,” she said. “Ohio has multiple research organizations, including academic medical centers, state universities and private research institutes, which should be permitted to continue their work. Research grants from federal sources could be jeopardized if the research is constrained by new state regulations.”
Rep. Kristen Boggs, a Democrat whose district covers much of OSU’s Columbus campus, was also optimistic about the bill, though she did not work with OSU’s government affairs team on it’s development.
“I personally think this is especially important in central Ohio, because we have Ohio State’s medical center, which can be a leading research institution with this, especially in tandem with the school of agriculture,” Boggs said.