Safeguards needed for medical marijuana

It appears virtually certain Ohioans will have access to marijuana – or at least, the active ingredient in it – for medicinal purposes within the next year or so. Some people believe that would be a blessing to those suffering from certain diseases.

It could be a curse for many other Buckeye State residents, if not handled with extreme caution.

Last year, after voters turned down a proposal to allow the sale and possession of marijuana for recreational purposes, a substantial number of them indicated they would have said yes to medicinal use. That has resulted in a campaign to place such an issue before voters this fall.

Legislators, wary of what voters may be persuaded to approve, are striking first. This week, the state House of Representatives approved a bill to permit medicinal use of marijuana. The vote was 71-26. State senators are expected to vote on the bill soon.

Some important safeguards are included in the bill. One is that it would not allow use of marijuana by smoking it. It could be ingested in vapor form, however. Municipalities could reject marijuana dispensaries. Employers could continue to insist on drug-free workplaces.

Many of the rules would be written by a special commission, the bill stipulates. That certainly raises red flags.

Critics of medicinal marijuana worry it could create another drug abuse epidemic, much as abuse of painkillers prescribed by physicians did in Ohio. Many of the state’s heroin addicts graduated from painkillers.

That is a valid concern – and it needs to be addressed satisfactorily, perhaps within any new law itself rather than later, by a commission. State senators should consider that aspect of the issue.

Legislators probably are right that if they do not permit medicinal use of marijuana, voters will in the fall – quite likely with fewer safeguards. So a pre-emptive strike may be wise, but only if it is achieved prudently.