COLUMBUS, Ohio — Legislative leaders and statewide officers weighed in Thursday on how Ohio should address the issue of medical marijuana, with most agreeing that the matter is not going away.
State lawmakers have been examining how to address medical marijuana since Ohio voters overwhelmingly rejected a ballot initiative in November that sought to legalize pot for medical and recreational use. The measure would have established 10 sites with exclusive authority to grow marijuana, and with profits going to the issue's deep-pocketed investors.
While the initiative tanked, polls surrounding the ballot issue suggested Ohioans support medical marijuana.
Speaking at a forum for journalists organized by The Associated Press, Attorney General Mike DeWine said he believed future action was up to the legislature, while noting ongoing clinical trials studying medical marijuana.
Auditor Dave Yost said he supports a tightly controlled medical marijuana law and did not think Ohio needed "a double-blind study" to make marijuana or cannabis products available to people suffering from severe medical conditions.
Treasurer Josh Mandel cautioned that the "devil is in the details" of any proposal, while Secretary of State Jon Husted urged Ohio lawmakers to work with law enforcement and medical professionals to develop a focused approach.
The four statewide leaders, who are all Republicans, spoke together on a panel at the forum in downtown Columbus. They each answered questions on their own history with marijuana, with Yost and Husted saying that had used the substance decades ago. DeWine and Mandel said they never have.
Separately, Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor said she used marijuana "a really long time ago."
Taylor said she hasn't really thought about whether lawmakers or voters should move to legalize medical marijuana.
"I have no problem letting the people of the state of Ohio vote on an initiative that is as important as this one," she said, though she didn't like the idea of taking away the legislature's authority.
House Speaker Cliff Rosenberger, a Clarksville Republican, told reporters he believed a task force that he's assembled will help determine the right direction for the state on medical marijuana. But Senate Minority Leader Joe Schiavoni, a Boardman Democrat, said Ohio lawmakers have heard testimony over the years and needed to act before additional ballot proposals go before voters.
"If we can improve quality of life for Ohioans and we can do it safely, then we need to do it," Schiavoni said.
Backers of legalizing marijuana have been circulating petitions to get initiatives on 2016 ballots.
Other highlights from the forum:
— Five of Ohio's Republican statewide officers weren't yet ready to specifically say what their plans will be after their terms end in 2018. DeWine, Husted and Taylor are weighing whether to run for governor, though all remained mum.
— The state's auditor, attorney general, lieutenant governor, treasurer, and secretary of state said Republican Gov. John Kasich should sign a bill aimed at diverting taxpayer money away from Planned Parenthood. Kasich, who is running for president, is expected to sign the bill.
— Ohio's legislative leaders said now is the not the time to change the state's tax on oil and gas drillers, which has been a priority of Kasich for years. He's wanted to use proceeds of a hike to help cut the state's income-tax rate.
— Rosenberger and Senate President Keith Faber, a Celina Republican, said they've never used marijuana. Schiavoni and House Minority Leader Fred Strahorn of Dayton said they have.
— Ohio Republican Party Chairman Matt Borges said the state GOP's endorsement of Kasich for president was the best way for the party to go before the March 15 primary. Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper says his party is remaining neutral to be fair to its candidates.
—Chief Justice Maureen O'Connor of the Ohio Supreme Court expressed concern about a lack of understanding of the grand jury process.
— And has O'Connor used marijuana? Guilty — in college, she said. "Glad to be in the majority. That's where I always want to be."
Associated Press writer Andrew Welsh-Huggins contributed to this report. Follow Ann Sanner on Twitter at http://twitter.com/asanner .