A veteran with PTSD. A retired government worker and cannabis activist with multiple sclerosis. An Ohio transplant who moved here two years ago for Ohio’s medical marijuana program.
Ohio’s first medical marijuana customers were met with applause, cheers and hugs as they exited dispensaries Wednesday, the first day of legal sales in Ohio.
“I’m ecstatic patients are no longer waiting for relief,” Joan Caleodis said.
Caleodis, 55, was the first patient at CY+ Dispensary in Wintersville, at the eastern edge of the state. Caleodis has spasticity, and cannabis takes away her pain while still allowing her to function. She bought $150 of marijuana Wednesday – three containers each holding 2.83g of dried flowers.
Ohio law doesn’t allow smoking but plant material can be sold for vaporization.
Alex Griffith, 30, was the second patient at CY+. Griffith drove five hours from his home in Delhi Township in Southwest Ohio to Wintersville on Tuesday so he could be among the first to buy legal marijuana. Griffith, a Marine veteran who suffers from PTSD, left the dispensary with a smile and a sense of relief.
“Now that I have medical cannabis I can start living my life and get that quality of life back. I can be Alex again,” Griffith said.
The first medical marijuana sales in Ohio took place at four retail stores: CY+ and Ohio Valley Natural Relief in Wintersville, The Botanist in Canton and The Forest Sandusky in Sandusky.
Dispensary owners prepared for large crowds on what is essentially the program’s opening day. They set up heated tents for waiting customers and served coffee and hot chocolate; food was prohibited by the state’s strict rules for the industry.
Initial prices were higher than other highly-regulated medical marijuana states. Dried marijuana flower – the only product available at first – was priced around $50 per 2.83 g. State regulations require plant material to be packaged and sold in 2.83 g amounts – one-tenth of an ounce that growers have nicknamed an “Ohio tenth.”
Ohio Valley Natural Relief was the only dispensary that did not limit purchases beyond 8 ounces within a 90-day period, the limit set in state law.
“We know a lot of people have been waiting for it and will be driving a long way,” owner Mike Petrella said. “We don’t want somebody driving, who gets there early in the morning, to not buy what they need. It’s first come, first served.”
The day is a huge milestone for a program that was created with a law passed in June 2016 and was supposed to be fully functioning more than four months ago.
But there is still a long way to go.
If program roll-outs in other states are any indication, there will be more hiccups, delays and shortages as the new, highly-regulated industry takes shape. Initial supply will be low and sell out quickly.
Prices will be steep, even compared to other regulated markets. There could be problems with newly in-place software used to track every plant from seed to sale.
The state’s patient registry opened just five weeks ago, and about 4,000 patients have completed the registration process. Ohio law allows patients with one of 21 medical conditions to buy and use marijuana if recommended by a physician. Only 374 doctors have been approved to recommend marijuana and start the patient registration process, and many of them aren’t yet participating.
Opening day won’t be a reality for much of the state until more dispensaries open this spring.
Dispensary shelves will initially be stocked with a few dozen strains from a few cultivators – 29 have been licensed to grow but only 14 are actually growing plants. None of the state’s licensed processors has passed a final inspection, so the only product available at first will be dried flower, or bud.
In the coming months, as processors come online, patients will be able to buy marijuana-infused oils, lotions, patches, tinctures and edibles.
“Countless Ohioans could benefit from medical cannabis, but only a limited number will gain access to it this week,” said Chris Lindsey, senior legislative counsel for national advocacy group Marijuana Policy Project.
Lindsey said the delays experienced in Ohio – from detailed application requirements to new state-specific regulations – offer a lesson for other states considering enacting medical marijuana laws. Thirty-two other states and the District of Columbia have legalized cannabis for medicinal use.
“States that create a high regulatory hurdle need to be ready for the additional burdens it places on state agencies and applicants as programs get off the ground,” Lindsey said. “Otherwise, a lot of the patients these laws were created to help won’t experience the benefits until several years after they are enacted.