Stagnant Qualifying Conditions Raise Specter of Cannabis Legalization

The State Medical Board of Ohio recently announced that it will once again be accepting petitions for designation of new qualifying conditions that allow citizens to obtain medical marijuana cards. However, such petitions may not seek designation of a broad category of diseases or conditions or any condition previously denied. Petitions may be submitted anytime between now and December 31, 2020.

Allowing individuals to submit petitions is nothing new. Last fall, the Board considered a petition for adding anxiety and autism spectrum disorders as qualifying conditions. Ultimately, the Board denied the petitions citing concerns that cannabis may cause panic attacks in anxiety patients. As for autism spectrum disorder, the Board was primarily concerned with the effect of cannabis on the developing brain of autistic children. Overall, the Board’s motive for denying both petitions was a perceived lack of scientific evidence.

Those submitting petitions seeking designation of a new qualifying conditions face an uphill battle in Ohio. This is due to the fact that there are hardly any conclusive studies or data behind the efficacy of cannabis in relation to particular diseases. Though there are numerous studies from overseas or Canada, due to scientific standards in the U.S., many of these trials/studies are not officially recognized by the scientific community or policymakers.

Many conditions, however deserving, will likely fall short of designation. This problem is not Ohio-specific. Many other states with active medical cannabis programs face similar issues. For example, earlier this week the Pennsylvania medical marijuana advisory board denied insomnia as a qualifying condition, citing concerns that it would be detrimental to people under the age of 18. There is a common pattern across states denying new qualifying conditions based on a lack of reliable scientific evidence and concerns over children.

Though the concerns of state medical boards are valid, history shows that overly rigid requirements for medical cannabis use can ultimately become a pathway to legalization of recreational adult-use if citizens become sufficiently discontented. Just two weeks ago, four states legalized adult-use cannabis, three of which had rigid medical programs like Ohio.

As cannabis policy evolves in the U.S., it would be unsurprising to see more states making a strong push towards adult-use laws. Though denial may be for valid reasons, many citizens are becoming frustrated with the stagnation of the expansion of qualifying conditions.

* Tanner Lawrence contributed to this post.