Medical marijuana OK’d by Ohio lawmakers in pre-break flurry

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Ohio lawmakers sent a medical marijuana legalization bill to the governor Wednesday on divided votes, in action capping a final flurry of activity ahead of their summer break.

The measure cleared the Senate 18-15, then the House 67-28, with both opposition and support among both Republicans and Democrats. It was among dozens of bills that flew through the Statehouse during sessions that extended well into the night.

Lawmakers had set a goal of sending the marijuana bill to Republican Gov. John Kasich before a break expected to extend until after the November election, viewing it as ammunition against a well-funded medical marijuana issue working its way to fall ballots.

The final bill bars patients from smoking or growing their own marijuana for medical use, but allows its use in vapor form for certain chronic health conditions.

Late changes to the measure bar dispensaries within 1,000 feet of a daycare center, rather than the earlier 500 feet, and prohibit housing discrimination against patients.

Kasich’s spokesman said the governor planned to review the bill before a decision on whether to sign it.

Among other proposals moving Wednesday were bills:

— Restoring a sales tax exemption on investment metal bullion and coins. A committee amended the bill to clarify that those eligible coins must be composed primarily of gold, silver, platinum or palladium. Coins bought for their potential value as collectibles would be taxed.

— Letting Ohioans register to vote online beginning next year.

— Allowing people who were denied access to public records the chance take their complaints to the Ohio Court of Claims.

— Allowing sales of certain wines at farmers’ markets.

— Toughening penalties for serious abuse of pets.

— Changing how the state and its cities deal with lead in drinking water.

— Eliminating the current structure of Ohio’s bipartisan legislative prison watchdog agency.

Prison-rights advocates were pushing back against the latter move, which they believed was being fast-tracked Wednesday. Lawmakers reconstituted the 40-year-old Correctional Institution Inspection Committee in a committee vote Tuesday and worked late Wednesday to make further changes.

In an open letter to the Senate, executive director Joanna Saul asked for “a full and fair hearing” before the committee structure is replaced.

The amendment required approval of four people to conduct a prison inspection and dictates a majority of committee members must be present at such reviews. Saul said getting busy lawmakers to attend inspections is difficult. Ohio law was changed in 2008 so they’re not required to attend inspections.

The proposal further removed a legal requirement that all 27 adult and three juvenile prisons be inspected biennially.

Jennifer Vollen-Katz, executive director of the John Howard Association in Illinois, was among those working the phones to save the committee. She said it’s viewed as a national model whose operations are being emulated by her nonprofit organization.

“We’re shocked and really concerned,” she said.

A least one legislative proposal that had been slated for action on Wednesday will have to wait until the fall. A House committee shelved a plan to create a new commission to review and help set the compensation of elected public officials in the state. The idea requires approval from Ohio voters.