In exactly one year, Ohioans with qualifying health conditions are, by law, supposed to be able to buy medical marijuana.
But will they?
“Absolutely,” said Ohio Commerce Director Jacqueline T. Williams, whose agency oversees the medical marijuana program. “I’m confident we will be able to get the program up and running as the legislature intended.”
Williams’ agency, which worked with the Ohio Board of Pharmacy and the Ohio Medical Board to build the marijuana program from the ground up, said Ohio had the advantage of drawing on the experience of 25 other states with some form of marijuana program on the books.
“People are going to utilize these products as medicine. We have a real responsibility to come up with a program that is safe for those individuals who use this product as patients in the future,” Williams said.
As required by House Bill 523, the medical marijuana law approved last year by the General Assembly and signed by Gov. John Kasich, hundreds of new rules had to be in place by today. The law requires that the program must be up and running, with medical marijuana available to patients, on Sept. 8, 2017.
Patients 21 and older can receive a supply of up to 90 days in the form of oils, tinctures, patches, plant materials for vaporizing but not smoking, and edibles.
Meeting the one-year deadline will be a huge challenge. The 24 growers won’t be picked until November and there is much work to be done after that: building secure indoor growing facilities; growing and harvesting marijuana crops (which takes 13 to 14 weeks); processing marijuana into approved products; testing products for purity, quality and content of tetrahydrocannabinol (THC); distribution to dispensaries; and, finally, sale to customers.
One cultivator applicant, who asked not be identified because applications haven’t been approved, said, “We’re very confident we’ll be able to meet all the deadlines.” However, he said, it is unclear if dispensaries will be open to sell products by September next year.
The state is expected to approve 40 processing facilities, some of them owned by cultivation firms. They will pay a $10,000 application fee, first-time operating fee of $90,000, and a $100,000 license annual renewal fee.
The testing of marijuana products remains up in the air. While higher education entities were supposed to step forward under the law to provide testing for the first year, most declined for fear of complications from federal law that says marijuana cultivation, sale and use is illegal. Only Hocking College in Nelsonville stepped forward to offer to be a tester.
Testers must certify that marijuana products are free of fungus and other things affecting quality, as well as verifying the amount of THC, the psychotropic component of marijuana that gives users a “high.”
State records show the selection of 60 marijuana dispensaries, scattered around the state, won’t be made until next year. The sites will allocated by region not by county. For example, Franklin County will have five dispensaries while some counties will have none.
The final link in the chain involves doctor and patients. Medical doctors and osteopathic physicians must receive two hours of special training and be certified before being allowed to recommend marijuana to patients.
Cameron McNamee of the Ohio Board of Pharmacy said qualifying patients must have a doctor’s recommendation before registering online for a marijuana card. Patients must pay $50 for a card and caregivers $25, with similar annual renewal fees. Patient registration won’t be available until next year, he said.