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A person rolls a joint outside of Seigfred Hall. Various groups in and around Athens are working to decriminalize marijuana in Ohio. (PATRICK CONNOLLY | FILE)

Ohio medical marijuana regulators proposing strict limits

Recent proposals to Ohio’s regulatory body on medical marijuana suggest the state is set to have among the most restrictive limits on possession of plant material, and advocates have expressed their doubts regarding the state’s approach. 

The State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy presented a draft proposal in February to the Ohio Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee containing recommendations for 90-day supply limits on medical marijuana. It based recommendations on Tetrahydrocannabinol — commonly referred to as THC — content.

“They’re somewhat placing limits on a specific compound that doesn’t necessarily mean anything or mean as much as they believe it does,” Brad White, a spokesman for the medical marijuana advocacy group United Ohio, said.

The pharmacy board broke down the proposed amount of plant material into two tiers, capping THC content at 35 percent. The plant material qualifies as Tier I if it contains up to 23 percent THC, and qualifies as Tier II if it's more than 23 percent. Patients are limited to six ounces of Tier 1 plant material and four ounces of Tier 2 plant material. 

Patients would be limited to 40.5 grams of THC for oils for vaporization, 19.8 grams for patches and nine grams for edibles, oils and tinctures. 

White said many factors influence the potency of the plant, and all the compounds taken together determine its effects on a user.

Janet Breneman, founder of the Ohio Cannabis Nurses Association, also questioned the decision to place limits on the plant material based on THC content.

“People don’t really purchase it as much for the THC content as they do (for) what the strain is and what the other compounds of the plant are,” Breneman said.

Breneman said she became interested in learning about “alternative” medicines such as marijuana after her husband died of cancer and that she started the association to educate people. 

Mary Jane Borden, co-founder and treasurer of the Ohio Rights Group, said the approach should be more individualized due to the variety of conditions covered under the law and called the focus on THC a mistake.

“It seems like we’re taking a uniform approach to dosing,” Borden said. “I think they ought to go into it with a little bit more of a flexible framework.”

White said if the regulations leave some patients unserved, they will either continue suffering or turn to the black market to find what they need.

“The challenge is that each of these conditions are going to vary widely in terms of amount of product needed to address their symptoms,” White said. “And even beyond that, every single person within a certain symptom set is going to have a wide range of consumption as well based on their life or the severity of those symptoms.”

Oregon and Colorado are two states that keep data on conditions reported by patients registered with their medical marijuana programs, and severe pain tops the list in both states for adults.

report from Oregon indicates about 89 percent of reporting patients cited severe pain and about 29 percent cited spasms. The most recent report from Colorado suggests about 93 percent of patients who reported their condition cited severe pain and about 25 percent cited muscle spasms.

The same data from both states shows seizures are the most common condition among minors registered with their programs.

Advocates for medical marijuana patients in Ohio say there should be exceptions to the proposed amounts for severe cases, so physicians have the option to recommend more based on their judgment. Some states, such as Illinois, allow physicians to request a waiver if they feel their patient needs more than the regulated amount.

“At no point are they going to get a community of advocates that are going to say, ‘OK, well it seems like Ohio’s got a good law. We’re just going to sit on the sidelines now,’ ” White said. “If anything, they get more ramped up to want to change the law.”

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