On June 8th, 2016 Ohio passed House Bill (HB) 523 and became the 28th state since California in 1996 to adopt the legal use of medical marijuana. Although the law has been in effect for nearly two years, various state agencies have yet to complete the regulatory details and legal framework to allow full implementation. It is estimated this will occur by September, 2018. While some local governments have expressed resistance to this new wave of acceptance, others are eager to grab a share of the pie. As part of the rollout, 24 cultivation licenses (6 per state quadrant) are up for grabs. Cities that are awarded licenses will have the right to cultivate supplies and will benefit from the corresponding new jobs and tax revenues.
While researching progress of Ohio's new law, I noticed through online message boards and commentaries following some of the articles that there is still a large misunderstanding of what the legal use of medical marijuana entails. To begin with, it should be noted that Ohio did not approve the legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes as in some states-the only way to obtain its medicinal benefits is through a prescription from a licensed physician. Patients in Ohio will not be able to smoke THC (the active ingredient in marijuana) but will have it prescribed in the form of vaporing oils, edibles, patches or tinctures (infused solutions). But while symptom/treatment may appear to be at the core of the new law, recent and ongoing research reveals it may only be the tip of the ice burg in terms of benefits for Ohio and its residents. Participating cities who obtain cultivation licenses must also develop supply houses and processing facilities. This means job growth and tax revenue for the city and state. In 2014 a study was conducted measuring the effects of medical marijuana laws on Medicare expenses in participating states and Washington DC. The study revealed an average Medicare savings of more than $9 million per state each year or a potential savings of nearly $500 million per year on pharmaceuticals for disabled and older adults should all states adopt the law. In 2014, according to the CDC, close to two million Americans were dependent upon or abused prescribed opioids. The study showed a significant drop in Medicare prescriptions for drugs treating the same symptoms marijuana is prescribed for including anxiety/depression, nausea, psychoses, seizures, sleep disorders and chronic pain. This suggests the implementation of medical marijuana laws may have a significant impact on the reduction of opioid addiction.
Regardless of the potential far-reaching benefits of HB523, observers can anticipate some initial resistance to the rollout in Ohio. Even with facilities, supplies, licensing and local support in place, the foundation will be the network of physicians who choose whether or not to prescribe. With opioids as the established and generally accepted prescription of choice for pain and depression, introducing a new option without the support of large drug companies or the federal government will keep many physicians from getting involved. Even those who may choose to prescribe THC as an alternative for their patients may be restricted by policy if they are employed by a larger practice or network. Other challenges include education (or lack thereof), what strength or dose to prescribe and which form is most effective.
For further readings on the subject including the effects of marijuana on the senior population please click on the resource links listed below.
1. Ashley C. Bradford and W. David Bradford, Medical Marijuana Laws Reduce Prescription Medication Use In Medicare Part D, Health Affairs 35, no. 7 (2016):1230-1236, https://pdfs.semanticscholar.org/b7e6/18c1b04db242cd7fa248e5d7fe0acbab3b76.pdf
2. The Senior’s Guide to Medical Marijuana, www.thesenorlist.com, June 1, 2017, https://www.theseniorlist.com/2017/06/seniors- guide-medical-marijuana/
3. Marijuana May Boost, Rather Than Dull, the Elderly Brain, Stephani Sutherland, Scientific American, May 10, 2017, https://www.scientificamerican.com/article/marijuana-may-boost-rather-than-dull-the-elderly-brain/
4. Seniors with access to medical marijuana use fewer prescription drugs, Ronnie Cohen, Reuters online, July 6, 2016 https://www.reuters.com/article/us-health-medicalpot-elderly/seniors-with-access-to-medical-marijuana-use-fewer-prescription-drugs-idUSKCN0ZM2C9