Clarification & Guidance for Doctors On Recommending Ohio Medical Marijuana To Patients Under HB 523

Medical Board Clarifies Marijuana Guidance For Doctors

Ohio doctors can recommend medical marijuana to patients under an affirmative defense provision in the state’s medical pot law, the State Medical Board clarified Wednesday. However the board will still be unable to certify doctors for the full program until rules are promulgated.

The clarification comes as medical marijuana advocates have voiced concerns that the board’s previous statement on the issue would deter doctors from recommending it.

Patients with qualifying conditions are able to possess some versions of the drug before the program’s full implementation through an affirmative defense against prosecution under the recently enacted medical marijuana legislation (HB 523).

“The Medical Board is in no way prohibiting the recommendation of medical marijuana now that HB523 is effective,” board member Robert Giacalone said at a meeting of the board’s policy committee.

Mr. Giacalone made the statement on behalf of the board after responses to its initial statement in September offering guidance to doctors on the issue. (See Gongwer Ohio Report, September 23, 2016) The board stands by that statement, saying doctors cannot issue state-approved written recommendations until they receive a certificate from the board, and the rules for how those certificates can be issued have yet to be developed.

The medical marijuana law is tricky, Mr. Giacalone said, and doctors should be careful if they choose to recommend the drug to patients.

“If Ohio physicians wish to recommend medical marijuana before the rules are in place, we strongly recommend that they contact a private attorney because the legislation is not crystal clear and could be interpreted as providing conflicting instructions to physicians,” he said.

Rob Ryan, with the medical marijuana advocacy group Ohio Patient Network, said doctors need clear guidance that they can make recommendations before the rules are fully developed. The affirmative defense works when patients, doctors and law enforcement know it will work.

“Those three aspects I think are the real core of the affirmative defense. The doctors have confidence, the patients have confidence, and the law enforcement say let’s deal with the real crime,” he said in an interview.

Doctors are already recommending marijuana to patients, he said, but more clarification on the process for recommending would ensure more doctors are confident about doing so.

“These doctors are busy,” he said. “They need a clear statement that says they can or they can’t.”

Michelle Price, a Dayton pharmacist who supports medical marijuana, said patients are also concerned about the affirmative defense and are seeking more certainty on what they can and cannot do.

Tim Johnson, representing the pro-medical marijuana group Veterans Ending the Stigma, said advocates were in Columbus Wednesday to encourage lawmakers to address other concerns regarding medical marijuana. They planned to focus on legislation including a bill (HB 290) aimed at increasing access to experimental drugs for terminally ill patients, and a bill (HB 597) addressing medical marijuana reciprocity agreements.

Medical Board Executive Director A.J. Groeber also provided board members with an update Wednesday on work the staff has done regarding medical marijuana, including visiting Illinois to learn from that state’s system.

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