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Risk of losing federal funding reason why medical marijuana research won’t happen

Medical marijuana plants for sale at The Farmacy, a popular California medical marijuana dispensary. Credit: Courtesy of TNS

When Ohio House Bill 523 was passed, legalizing medical marijuana in Ohio, part of the law left many wondering who would test the marijuana so patients could use it by the program’s start date of September 2018.

The law required an Ohio public higher-education institution to carry out the task of testing the product that will soon be available to patients who are eligible to receive medical marijuana if they have one of several approved pre-existing medical conditions, such as HIV, AIDS or cancer.

One state senator, Republican Frank LaRose, said when the bill was passed he intended for Ohio State to take up testing for the state, even going as far to say Ohio State officials were “gung-ho” about the role at first, per Jackie Borchardt of Cleveland.com.

However, Ohio State made clear a few weeks ago it would not apply to be a test site, pointing to hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding it would be at risk of losing, including both federal research grants and federal tuition assistance such as Pell Grants, Ohio State spokesman Ben Johnson said.

“Because of this wave of the number of states that have legalized medical marijuana, with Ohio being 25th, it was anticipated that there would be a relaxing at the federal level,” said Ohio State’s senior vice president of research, Carol Whitacre, in regard to the substance being classified as a Schedule I drug.

A public college or university could be at risk of losing funding if they were to participate in testing a drug the federal government has classified as Schedule I, in the same group as heroin and LSD, among others. Schedule I classification means the drug has no accepted medical use and has a high potential for abuse.

But that relaxation never came. With a new administration in the White House and Attorney General Jeff Sessions’ emphatic objection to medical marijuana, changing of federal laws or reclassification are not expected any time soon.

While Ohio State initially considered the testing, the uncertain federal laws made it difficult to move forward in partnering with the state to get the program up and running.

“There was a fairly dramatic shift at the federal level in terms of the classification, or the expected reclassification, as well as an opportunity to expand research at the federal level,” Stacy Rastauskas, the vice president for government relations, said. “Given the shift, not quite in real time, but almost immediately after the passage of the law in Ohio, we had to re-evaluate what we would be legally able to do.”

But according to John Cachat, the spokesman for CCV Research, a private testing lab in Cleveland, an Ohio college does indeed plan on applying to be the state’s testing facility regardless of possible risks. He did not disclose which college.

Cachat, along with his son Dr. Jonathan Cachat, said they are “consulting” a college on how to move forward with the application process.

“As a college, they know this program is in jeopardy if nobody applies and we feel obligated to move forward and support the state (in implementing this program),” Cachat said. “Federal (funding) is still a risk for them. There are different people running different colleges with different thoughts.”

For Ohio State — the largest research college in the state — it decided the risk may not be worth it, leaving the testing up to another one of Ohio’s public colleges.

CCV Research and the partnering school are planning to announce their application at a press conference on Sept. 5.

One comment

  1. Extremely well written and obviously well informed article, Mr. Daugherty.
    It’s almost as if medical marijuana in Ohio has been set up to fail, which is really sad considering how much good it could do (and has done in other states where programs are already in effect).
    The fact that these colleges have to, essentially, risk everything to be able to contribute to the medical marijuana program seems so backward.
    I understand the federal government’s desire to keep marijuana classified as Schedule I, because reclassification of the drug (which is just a small part of the plant) would not be in the best interest of certain industries that could be jeopardized if hemp became a more prevalent alternative resource for things such as paper, clothing, furniture, etc., but that’s beside the point.
    The point is that the medical marijuana program, those wishing to contribute (e.g. schools, like OSU, that want to participate in testing and research), and the patients who could benefit from treatment with marijuana should not be the ones who suffer from these risks, threats, set backs, and everything else that has been/is jeopardizing the program in Ohio.

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