Eleanor Ahrens, president of Southeast Ohio NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws), spoke to members of the Barnesville Rotary Club on Tuesday, Feb. 25.
Ahrens said she became involved in the effort to legalize marijuana for medical use in Ohio because she suffers from epilepsy, migraines and a disorder called dystonia, a neurological movement disorder, in which sustained muscle contractions cause twisting and repetitive movements or abnormal postures.
She said that before Ohio lost the right for doctors to tell patients about the medical use of marijuana, a doctor at the Cleveland Clinic suggested she try marijuana to alleviate her symptoms which include seizures. She said she tried other medications first, but most had terrible side effects and were very costly.
Ahrens said in her opinion, a patient has to be desperate to use marijuana as a cure.
Ahrens’ legal problems began in 1994 when the marijuana plants she was growing on her own property and for her own use were stolen. She said the thief was caught selling marijuana on a college campus, and made a deal to tell authorities were he obtained the plants.
Two years later, Ahrens testified in Columbus against the repeal of the state’s medical necessity defense for marijuana use. The measure did not prevent people from being charged with marijuana possession, but allowed for a legal defense if the defendant had a physician’s written recommendation to use marijuana for medical purposes. After Governor Kasich vetoed the vote against the repeal, Ahrens was prosecuted and faced 18 months in prison.  After a long and costly legal battle, she was ordered to complete six months of drug rehabilitation.
She said legal problems only intensify a person’s medical problems.
According to NORML literature provided by Ahrens, other countries including Canada, England, and Australia are beginning to legalize medical use of marijuana. Ahrens said 20 states have passed medical marijuana use, 16 states have decriminalized marijuana and two states, Washington and Colorado, have passed full legalization.
Ahrens said the Ohio Rights Group currently has an Ohio Cannabis Rights Amendment petition in each of Ohio’s 88 counties for the legalization of medical marijuana and hemp. She said 385,000 signatures are needed by July 1st.  NORML is also backing medical use of marijuana legislation, House Bill 153,  which is in the Ohio House now, pending a hearing. She said legislation is also being pursued at the federal level.
“The federal government is not sure how to handle this because the situation is chaining so rapidly,” she said.
Ahrens said that since 1996, she has seen a change in the way people react to the medical use of marijuana. “The climate has changed,” she said.
According to the Southeast Ohio NORML website (www.seohionorml.org), “an unprecedented 58 percent of Americans believe that marijuana ought to be ‘made legal’ for adult consumption, according to survey data reported in October by Gallup. The percentage is the highest level of support ever recorded by Gallup, which has been inquiring on the issue since 1969, and marks a 10 percent increase in voter approval since 2012. Regional polls conducted this year in several states, including California, Louisiana, and Texas, also reported majority support for legalization.”
“I think we are in for a big change. I am really excited for the future,” Ahrens said.
She said she  feels it will be safer [without drug dealers] and that she will see the change in her lifetime.
NORML also promotes the uses for industrial hemp.
For more information, see the above website address, e-mail seohionorml@gmail.com or mail Southeast Ohio NORML, P.O. Box 17, Glouster, OH 45732.