COLUMBUS -- The Ohio House passed legislation Feb. 15 to tighten the penalties against those who possess or sell cocaine.

HB 4 was OK'd on a vote of 97-0 and heads to the Ohio Senate for further consideration.

The law changes were proposed following an Ohio Supreme Court ruling late last year that the prosecution of cocaine-related offenses be based on the weight of the pure cocaine involved, not the weight of cocaine and any fillers.

The bill moved through the House with an emergency clause, meaning it would take effect immediately after signed by Gov. John Kasich.

"Every day that we delay, drug dealers pushing large quantities of cocaine are facing only the lowest felony penalty," said Rep. Robert Cupp (R-Lima), a former Ohio Supreme Court justice and the primary co-sponsor of the legislation.

Current sections of state law dealing with criminal penalties for cocaine trafficking and possession focus on the grams of cocaine involved. HB 4 would remove the words "of cocaine," meaning the weight of the drugs involved would be considered as-is, rather than requiring the weight of pure cocaine to be determined absent other compounds.

"As the law now stands, drug dealers and traffickers are incentivized to possess and traffic in larger quantities of cocaine, because the penalty will be of no greater consequence if the dealers and/or traffickers are apprehended with large quantities rather than small quantities," said Rep. John Rogers (D-Mentor-on-the-Lake), the other primary co-sponsor of the legislation. "And this is an incentive that must not be left in place. By not addressing the matter in an emergency measure, we will open the floodgates to cocaine distribution in Ohio."

HB 4 was one of three bills moved by the Ohio House Wednesday.

In separate action, lawmakers OK'd HB 32, which would enable casino operators and employees to play slot machines, card tables and gaming at facilities other than their own.

Under current law, casino employees are not allowed to patronize other casinos in the state, regardless of the facilities' ownership. The legislation changes that, giving casino operators and employees the same privileges already enjoyed by those who work at the state's racinos.

Also Wednesday, the House moved a tax conformity bill, routine legislation that would bring Ohio's tax code in line with federal code changes. The Ohio Senate passed comparable legislation last week.

Marc Kovac covers the Ohio Statehouse for Gatehouse Media. Contact him at mkovac@recordpub.com or on Twitter at OhioCapitalBlog.