Nearly two years ago this week, Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 523, legalizing medical marijuana in the Buckeye State. In spite of this historic legislation, Ohio patients are still no closer to receiving state-regulated medicinal cannabis products.
While Ohio’s medical marijuana program was supposed to be up and running by September 8, state officials are anticipating that the program won’t be fully operational until November of this year, at the earliest.
Ohio lawmakers set the September deadline back in 2016, giving multiple state agencies the time to collaborate, coordinate, and implement a medical marijuana program. So what happened? Were two years too tight of a deadline? Did Ohio legislators forget to do their homework? Was there no policy-parachute for a new canopy in Ohio?
Marcie Seidel, a member of the Ohio Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee, felt that two years wasn’t enough time. “I thought it was really aggressive and thought that it probably couldn’t happen,” Seidel said.
When asked about the September 8 deadline, Mark Hamlin from the Ohio Department of Commerce stated that he would rather have a safe program than a quick one.
“The places where (businesses) have seen people get in trouble is when they rush to hit some specific deadline,” Hamlin said. “We’re always going to be focused first and foremost on patient safety and access.”
Unfortunately, as with any burgeoning industry, there are hurdles and stopgaps which may prevent the timely delivery of promised goods. Medicinal marijuana products in Ohio are no different.
Medicinal marijuana is legal in 30 states and Washington, D.C. According to an analysis by the Marijuana Policy Project, the implementation timeline for medical marijuana programs varied by state, with the shortest being five months and the longest, four years.
Ohio’s neighbor, Pennsylvania, legalized medicinal marijuana in April 2017 and began issuing the first round of medicinal marijuana permits two months later. So why the delay?
A bogged down bureaucratic process, difficulties obtaining licensing, and the actual planting of cannabis in Ohio all play a role in delaying the release of medicinal marijuana.
Pot cultivation, processing, and patient problems
Like California, Ohio has some pot processing problems. The Department of Commerce will allow 40 cultivators to process marijuana into oils and edibles, but of the 104 applications, the department received, only 10 have met the state requirements.
Additionally, licensed cultivators have run into some actual agricultural issues. Like any other agricultural industry, cannabis cultivators have had to deal with construction, weather delays, and local permitting issues.
As such, the first medicinal marijuana seeds weren’t planted until the end of July 2018. Cannabis requires anywhere from 16 to 22 weeks to reach maturity, meaning that the first plants won’t be ready until the end of November at the earliest.
Finally, Ohio delayed the medical marijuana patient registry. Medical marijuana patients, along with their caregivers, will be required to register with the Board of Pharmacy to receive the requisite patient identification cards necessary to purchase marijuana.
The opening of the online registry was delayed due to the lack of medicinal marijuana available to qualified patients. The Board has not yet announced when the registry will open, but it is safe to assume that it will not open by the Sept. 8 deadline.