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Lawmakers Move Quickly to Fix Marijuana Defense Oversight

November 28, 1996

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) _ For five months, an obscure provision of Ohio law has made it legal for people to argue that they have medical reasons for possessing marijuana.

State officials say they didn’t know anything about it, but they quickly set out Wednesday to reverse the law.

The law, which allows marijuana smokers to claim chronic illness or pain as a legal defense, was largely forgotten after it was inserted into a lengthy criminal sentencing bill two years ago.

``The provision was stuck in a bill that was 1,000 pages long,″ said Kathy Fleck, a spokeswoman for Gov. George Voinovich.

``There were a number of points that were hotly debated in the Legislature,″ she said. ``This particular issue was not.″

Since it took effect July 1, there’s no indication anyone tried to invoke the law, which doesn’t prevent people from being charged with possession of marijuana. A judge or jury, however, can take into consideration a defendant’s written recommendation from a doctor to use marijuana.

Voinovich, Attorney General Betty Montgomery and former state Sen. Tim Greenwood _ the sponsor of the sentencing bill _ all said they had no idea the marijuana defense had become law.

``The attorney general tries to follow important pieces of legislation, but is not able to know what’s on every page of every bill passed by the Legislature,″ Deputy Attorney General Mark Weaver said.

``Why not?,″ asked Bob Demuth, a Grandview resident getting an early jump on his Christmas shopping downtown. ``They shouldn’t put so much in them if people can’t understand them,″

The issue didn’t surface until Wednesday when it was reported by The Cincinnati Enquirer and the Columbus Dispatch.

The attorney general’s staff immediately began writing a new bill to override the marijuana law. Lawmakers are expected to introduce the bill when they reconvene in January.

``I think there’s a fear that a doctor with particularly liberal idea of what an illness is may write prescriptions for marijuana willy-nilly,″ Weaver said.

People who suffer from cancer, glaucoma, multiple sclerosis and some rare genetic diseases say marijuana helps control nausea and muscle spasms, eases eye pressure and pain and stimulates appetite. Pot-using patients insist it works better than other drugs, including the expensive Marinol, a pill that contain’s marijuana’s active ingredient, THC.

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