Ohio Lawmakers Advance Bill To Allow Medical Cannabis for Autism

The proposal to permit patients with autism to use medicinal cannabis now heads to the state senate.

A bid in Ohio to allow patients with autism to be treated with medical cannabis gained momentum this week, with lawmakers in the state House overwhelmingly passing a bill on Wednesday.

The bill, sponsored by a Democrat and a Republican, passed by a vote of 73-13, according to Cleveland.com, and it will now move to the state Senate for consideration. (Republicans hold the majority in both chambers.)

“This bill is a direct result of the needs and wants of the people of Ohio who are on the autism spectrum,” said Democratic state House Rep. Juanita Brent, one of the co-sponsors of the bill. “It will help ensure legal access to a plant-based solution free from costly prescription medications or other outdated and sometimes harmful treatments.”

Should the measure ultimately become law, Ohio would join 17 other states that currently allow patients with autism to receive medical cannabis. Under the Buckeye State’s current medical marijuana law, patients with the following qualifying conditions may be eligible for the treatment: AIDS, amyotrophic lateral sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease, cachexia, cancer, chronic traumatic encephalopathy, Crohn’s disease, epilepsy or another seizure disorder, fibromyalgia, glaucoma, hepatitis C, Huntington’s disease, inflammatory bowel disease, multiple sclerosis, pain that is either chronic and severe or intractable, Parkinson’s disease, positive status for HIV, post-traumatic stress disorder, sickle cell anemia, Spasticity, spinal cord disease or injury, terminal illness, Tourette syndrome, traumatic brain injury, and ulcerative colitis.

The bill would also represent a long-awaited breakthrough for advocates who have tried unsuccessfully for years to add autism to the state’s list of qualifying conditions.

In 2020, the Ohio State Medical Board rejected a petition to include autism and anxiety among the qualifying conditions.

The board received public comments from opponents and supporters of the proposal. Sarah Kincaid of the Ohio Children’s Hospital Association said at the time that the “inclusion of autism and anxiety as conditions has the potential to negatively impact the health and well being of thousands of children in Ohio.”

Carrie Taylor, a mother with two sons who have autism, expressed frustration back then and wondered if autism would ever be covered by the state’s medical cannabis law.

“Our voice is not being heard right now,” Taylor said at the time. “These doctors have this thought in their mind, and they’re obviously set in stone where they stand. We’re not trying to give them something that’s not legalized with other medical purposes.”

Brent, the sponsor of the bill that passed out of the House this week, said in January that “if the legislature does not address the public outcry for change, I know it will be brought to the ballot box.”

In addition to Brent’s bill, the Ohio state Senate passed its own bill in December that could also open up medical cannabis treatment to patients with autism.

Under that bill, which was brought forward by a GOP state senator and is now being considered by a state House committee, physicians in Ohio could “recommend marijuana for treatment for any condition if the physician, in the physician’s sole discretion and medical opinion, finds either of the following”: “that the patient’s symptoms may reasonably be expected to be relieved from medical marijuana” and “that the patient may otherwise reasonably be expected to benefit from medical marijuana.”

The bill would also explicitly add arthritis, migraines, autism spectrum disorder, spasticity or chronic muscle spasms, hospice care or terminal illness, and opioid use disorder to the list of qualifying conditions.

Should that bill become law, it would be the biggest change to Ohio’s medical cannabis program, which launched in 2016.

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