COLUMBUS, Ohio – The State Medical Board of Ohio says that it can never remove a condition on the list to qualify for medical marijuana – even if later evidence shows the drug is ineffective or harmful.
However, a lawmaker who was involved in the 2016 law that legalized medical marijuana said the Ohio General Assembly never intended conditions to be immutable, or unremovable, if new research comes to light about cannabis’ effect on an illness.
The question of whether the conditions are immutable comes as the board embarks on its second study of whether to allow medical marijuana for anxiety and autism spectrum disorder. If medical board members conclude that they can never remove a condition from the list, they may reject autism and anxiety – as well as any other condition that the public petitions it to consider – out of caution that patients could get hurt.
U.S. research on the efficacy of medical marijuana is thin because the federal government categorizes marijuana as a Schedule 1 controlled substance, with tough requirements for scientists to legally obtain the plant to research it. However, there is some marijuana research from other countries.
The list of 21 qualifying conditions – which includes cancer, seizure disorders and glaucoma – were originally listed in the bill. Any new conditions need to be approved by the medical board.
“The legislators did not give us the ability to remove a condition,” said Tessie Pollock, a board spokeswoman. “Even if there’s new evidence that (shows) risks outweigh the benefits, it’s (permanently) there.”
Pollock said that the 2016 law outlined the process of adding a condition but never specified how the board is to remove one. The law states that once the board approves or denies a condition, the decision is final, which is how it concludes it cannot take further action – such as removing the condition.
In a medical board internal email exchange, Sallie Debolt, a board attorney, also points to the state law as limiting the board.
“The language states that the Medical Board’s decision is final,” she wrote in the email.
But lawmakers never intended to prohibit the medical board from removing conditions, said state Sen. David Burke, a Marysville Republican who was involved in the 2016 law.
The legislature can always pass another law clarifying that the medical board can remove conditions if the interpretation is a barrier to the board acting on new conditions, he said.
Burke said he can’t think of an instance in which medical marijuana could prove to be harmful — except possibly schizophrenia, after some research has concluded highly potent, daily use is associated with psychotic episodes. Critics of the research say the mental illness is complex, correlation doesn’t mean causation and increased psychosis may have more to do with widespread availability of pot.
Even if researchers found medical marijuana harmful for a condition, doctors and pharmacists are not supposed to hand out medicines that in their professional opinion won’t work, said Burke, who is a pharmacist outside the legislature.
“A physician has a responsibility for the patient’s best interest to not write a prescription that will cause harm,” he said.
Chris Lindsey of the Marijuana Policy Project, which advocates for medical and recreational laws, said there is nothing in Ohio law to prevent the medical board from removing a condition, even if it doesn’t outline a process.
“In 15 years of doing this, I’ve never heard of any state ever talk about removing any condition,” he said. “… The last time I checked, the government runs the show. If they need to make changes, if there’s a lack of scientific support, don’t throw all those patients under the bus because of something that may happen down the road.”