COLUMBUS — Ohio’s new medical marijuana law went it effect today, which means patients with qualifying medical conditions will receive limited legal protections from laws prohibiting marijuana possession.

Several state agencies are formally beginning the process of establishing a regulated system of medical marijuana production and distribution.

“It is going to result in us having to ask a few more questions to make certain their are legal prescriptions,” Galion Police Chief Brian Satterfield said. “But it’s not going to change the way we do things on a daily basis.”

Beginning today, Ohioans with qualifying medical conditions are eligible for legal protection for possession of a 90-day supply of medical marijuana. Specifically, if they are charged with possession, they will be able to exercise an affirmative defense in court by presenting a written statement from their physician that shows:

1. The patient has a condition listed in Ohio’s medical marijuana law;

2. The patient and doctor have an ongoing physician-patient relationship;

3. The patient has been informed of the risks and benefits of medical marijuana, and the doctor indicated that the benefits outweigh the risks; and

4. The doctor has obtained a report from Ohio’s drug database showing other drugs prescribed to the patients over the past 12 months.

And despite the fact drivers may have a prescription for medical marijuana, if they are driving, and appear erratic or sluggish and are determined to be driving impaired, they may still be charged with an OVI offense.

“That has not changed,” Satterfield said.

(The medical marijuana saw) “is a major milestone in establishing a system that will help countless Ohioans who are suffering from serious illnesses,” said Aaron Marshall, the spokesperson for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana, the group behind a proposed ballot initiative that inspired legislators to adopt House Bill 523. “It is one of the first steps on a long road to developing a well-regulated system. The real work of crafting the specific rules and regulations still lies ahead.

“We are closely monitoring the development of Ohio’s medical cannabis system to ensure it will be a robust and transparent program,” Marshall said. “Our goal is to ensure that this effective medicine is available and affordable for seriously ill patients who desperately need it.”

And although medical marijuana may now be legal in this state, that doesn’t mean doctors can readily prescribe it nor that patients will automatically receive a prescription if they ask for one.”

“A lot of patients have already begun to talk with their doctors about medical marijuana, and that will continue as the program rolls out,” Marshall said. “Right now, it is critical that the state medical board and the state pharmacy board provide clear guidance for physicians and their patients. Doctors need to know how they can serve those they assist, and need to understand the limits of the law. We hope that guidance will be available without delay.”

The new laws are very much a work in progress.

Many provisions in the new law defer key decisions about the program to various state agencies, which will begin developing rules in the coming weeks and months. That process is critical to the success of the program, and how agencies decide to manage particular aspects of the state system will have a profound effect on people’s lives, including both patient and physician requirements.

“Based on early signs we are seeing, we believe the state will adopt sensible rules and regulations to create a program that serves Ohio patients well in the long run. In the mean time, helping doctors and patients better understand the affirmative defense is an important early step,” Marshall said.

Staff report