Democratic Votes Will Likely Be Needed To Pass Medical Marijuana Bill

May 19, 2016

Democrats in the Ohio Senate could play a key role in determining whether state lawmakers are able to pass a medical marijuana bill that passed the House last week.

There are 33 members in the Senate - 23 Republicans and 10 Democrats. Often times, Democrats in that chamber are not needed to pass legislation. But this time around, Sen. Bill Seitz (R-Cincinnati) thinks some of their votes might be necessary to push the medical marijuana bill through. “I don’t know whether there are the votes in the Senate to pass the House bill or anything close to the House bill. I think it will pass but I think it will be close,” Seitz said.

The House bill would allow medical marijuana recommended only by doctors, and only in certain forms, and it can’t be smoked and it can’t be grown at home. Sen. Joe Schiavoni (D-Boardman) is the minority leader. He says some Democratic Senators are against the idea of medical marijuana. But he said most of his caucus is considering the legislation carefully: “Most of our members are in favor of the idea but have different concerns for different reasons.”

Schiavoni said most of them realize it is a matter of time before Ohio gets a medical marijuana plan. Indeed, two different groups are looking at putting a medical marijuana constitutional amendment before voters this fall. One of those groups has been successful in other states and has an organization in place now, trying to collect the more than 305,000 valid signatures needed to put the issue on the ballot. Schiavone says that’s why many of his members would like to see a law passed by the legislature rather than a voter-passed constitutional amendment. But he said timing is essential. “The longer we take to do this, the more amendments that get talked about and discussed, it makes it more difficult,” Schiavoni said.

Sen. Dave Burke (R-Marysvile) has taken the reins on getting the House-passed medical marijuana bill through the Senate. He said while it might be a challenge to strike a balance with this medical marijuana plan, lawmakers also realize time to pass a bill is limited. “So while the bill may have its imperfections and perfections, unless you are supportive of outside entities coming to your state and inserting themselves on a drug issue, an illegal drug issue no less, into the Ohio constitution, I think the legislature is a more thoughtful path,” Burke said.

The Senate hopes to pass this bill by the end of next week, before the legislature leaves for its summer break.