Hurry up, and wait. In a time of delays and uncertainties, the only thing that’s certain in the local medical marijuana industry is that business owners have invested millions of dollars and are anxious to get started. But for many in this new highly regulated industry, start dates are now predicted for December or early 2019, instead of September as originally thought.
“Are the delays frustrating? Yes,” said Dave Neundorfer, CEO of Greenleaf Apothecaries LLC, a Waite Hill firm that received five of the 56 provisional dispensary licenses the Ohio Board of Pharmacy awarded in June.
“What’s most frustrating is that there are patients who are qualified and waiting for this type of medicine, and they don’t know when they’ll have access,” Neundorfer said.
Dispensaries, like his, are spread statewide, although most are in Northeast and Central Ohio. Greenleaf locations are in Wickliffe, Cleveland, Akron, Canton and Columbus.
“We’re doing everything in our power to be ready as quickly as possible to serve our patients,” said Neundorfer, 37, who is also president and CEO of Cleveland-based software company LineStream Technologies.
Greenleaf plans to hire between 50 to 75 employees for the five locations by the end of the first quarter of 2019.
Many owners say it’s hard to put an exact number on how much capital has been invested so far in Ohio’s medical marijuana program.
Tom Rosenberger, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association of Ohio, said Ohio business owners and other investors have spent millions for the opportunity to be part of this new fast-growing industry.
“Licensees have already invested tens of millions of dollars into building facilities and getting Ohio’s medical marijuana program up and running,” Rosenberger said.
“The 13 level I cultivators, 40 processors, 56 dispensaries, and 4+ testing labs will combine to invest over $100 million in Ohio before a single sale is made,” he added.
Rosenberger referred to a public document submitted by Cresco Labs to make his point. The Chicago-based company’s budget of $11 million for their Yellow Springs, Ohio, operation includes a cultivation facility, a processing facility and a dispensary.
“Extrapolate that out to cover all the licenses in Ohio, and we easily hit the $100 million mark in investment,” he said.
“And those numbers don’t even include the capital invested in writing applications by applicants who ultimately didn’t receive licenses.”
Andrew Rayburn, founder of Big Game Capital, a private investment firm, is another Northeast Ohio business owner who has played a role in spending millions, of his own money, to be part of Ohio’s marijuana medical program. A member of the business community for more than 35 years, now he’s CEO of the Buckeye Relief team.
Buckeye Relief received the highest score in the state’s competitive licensing process. Level I licenses were awarded to only 12 of the 109 teams that applied, and Buckeye Relief was the first to plant cannabis crops in late July. The Eastlake company broke ground on a 60,000 square-foot-facility in December, soon after the licenses were awarded in November.
Rayburn said he’s not frustrated by the process. He believes the state did its best to predict a 2018 launch date when Ohio legalized marijuana in 2016.
“I tell people in this crazy industry, we’re not frustrated by the timing,” he said. “The market is going to come together at the first of the year. The bottom line is that the reason we’re all doing this is so that patients can get access to this medicine finally.
“There will be an operating market by the first of the year. We will have our first harvest in December and dispensaries will have products by the first of the year,” Rayburn said.
So far, the Eastlake company has hired 18 people, with plans to have 30 to 40 employees by the end of the year.
“We’re hiring constantly at this point, adding a few people each month primarily in cultivation and sales,” Rayburn said.