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A Closer Look at the Medical Marijuana Issue

Note: This editorial appeared in the Troy Daily News on August 21, 2016 just as the Medical Marijuana issue was being debated in the community. Troy City Council is expected to vote on February 6, 2017 on legislation that will permit up to three dispensaries in the B-4 zoning district.

Last year, voters in Ohio defeated Issue 3 at the ballot box by nearly a 2-to-1 margin. The measure turned down an effort to legalize medical and recreational marijuana use in the State of Ohio. From that point, the state legislature could have easily neglected the measure for years to come. However, our lawmakers in Columbus took a different approach and undertook efforts to look at medical marijuana use in Ohio.

Under efforts spearheaded by our own state representative, Dr. Stephen Huffman, the State General Assembly passed House Bill 523, which permitted the use of medical marijuana in Ohio. The work done by the General Assembly gives the impression that medical marijuana law was deeply discussed and debated and enjoyed support from both conservative and liberal members of both chambers. The full law takes effect in early September.

Many local communities are preparing for medical marijuana by passing temporary moratoriums on the dispensing, cultivating and processing of the plant. These six-month moratoriums make sense; they give communities an opportunity to figure out how to handle the new regulations and the appropriate next steps to take.

On Aug. 10, a measure was tabled by the city of Troy’s planning commission that would recommend city council take action to fully prohibit the processing, cultivating and dispensing of medical marijuana in the community.

Personally, I am concerned over the fact that there are efforts to not only restrict, but to prohibit, the dispensing of medical marijuana in the community. Under the new law, dispensers of medical marijuana to patients must be licensed by the State Board of Pharmacy and must report medical marijuana sales to the state. In addition, only properly licensed physicians can prescribe the drug to patients. I think it is safe to say that the state legislature took great care to ensure that the dispensing of medical marijuana was going to take place in a highly secured and regulated fashion.

One of the unfortunate perceptions of this proposed action to prohibit medical marijuana is that gives the impression that the city is picking and choosing what prescribed drugs can and cannot be accessed by a patient from a prescription from their doctor.

Right now in our community, much more harmful (and perhaps destructive) drugs are being prescribed. For example, between 2013 and 2014, the number of overdoses of fentanyl, which can be procured by a prescription, skyrocketed from 84 to 502.

Now, clearly much of the fentanyl being used is manufactured or received illegally, but data from the National Institutes of Health shows that in any given month, as many as six million Americans abuse prescription pills; over 60 percent of those abusers are using painkillers. It should not be a shock to learn the abuse of prescription drugs kill many people every year.

If our community had the choice, wouldn’t we try to block highly potent opioid painkillers such as fentanyl? Don’t these drugs have a larger impact on our community’s health rather than the effects medical marijuana could have?

Perhaps the greatest tragedy of all is that marijuana is still classified by the federal government as Schedule I narcotic. Basically, this definition means that the government has not found any reliable medical use for the drug and it is highly addictive. By being on Schedule I, the opportunity for private research on marijuana is strictly limited.

Yet, some of the research on medical marijuana shows scores of anecdotal data that demonstrates that medical marijuana can effectively be used to treat chronic pain and muscle spasms. Even though I am not a doctor, it would appear that prescribing medical marijuana would be a much safer alternative from chronic pain relief than the highly potent pain killers that are available.

The State of Ohio has gone to great lengths to ensure that the medical marijuana industry in Ohio is highly regulated and highly controlled and the state has allowed local communities to add their own regulations. The city should be applauded for taking the time to research their options and determine how medical marijuana fits within the culture of the community. However, completely prohibiting medical marijuana does not appear to serve the best interests of our community.