Buying medical marijuana through Ohio’s medical marijuana control program is not as simple as getting a prescription from a physician.
Patients must first find a physician who is certified to recommend the drug, who will then determine whether the patient meets one of the state’s 21 qualifying conditions.
Then there are the fees, the patient and caregiver registry and the dispensaries.
But even though the process is new, there are already more than 3,500 names on Ohio’s patient and caregiver registry, the state’s official list of people who are permitted to purchase medical cannabis, according to the latest figures from the Ohio Board of Pharmacy. Another 1,300 individuals and caregivers have been approved by a physician but have not yet paid the registration fee.
Finding a certified physician
There are about 375 physicians certified to recommend medical marijuana in Ohio, according to the State Medical Board of Ohio’s CTR roster, available at https://bit.ly/2S4WkRn.
But the database only specifies where each physician lives, not the cities and counties where they practice. And only a few of those physicians are currently seeing patients in the Lima area, including physicians at Medical Cannabis of Northwest Ohio in Wapakoneta and My Marijuana Card in Lima.
Patients should bring an Ohio driver’s license, passport or other state-issued identification form the Ohio Bureau of Motor Vehicles, which are needed to enter a patient’s name into Ohio’s patient and caregiver registry, according to Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program guidelines.
Patients should also bring documentation from a primary care doctor or specialist verifying they meet one of the state’s 21 qualifying conditions.
Physicians can’t prescribe medical marijuana, which is still classified as a schedule 1 drug, but they can recommend medical cannabis in three-month supplies. The maximum recommendation a physician can make is a 90-day supply with up to three refills, which amounts to a one-year supply, per program guidelines.
If a patient is deemed eligible, they’ll have to pay a $50 fee before their name can appear on the patient and caregiver registry. But individual physicians may charge their own fees to evaluate patients.
Patient and caregiver registry
The patient and caregiver registry is the official list of people who are allowed to purchase medical marijuana from the dispensaries.
Once a physician has verified a patient is qualified, the process should go quickly, according to Tessie Pollock, director of communication for the State Medical Board of Ohio. Physicians are expected to send the patient’s name to the registry, after which the patient will receive an email through which they can pay the $50 registration fee. The state will then email the patient their patient card.
The patient card is only good for one year, after which the patient will need to go through the process again to verify they still suffer from one of the 21 qualifying conditions. That means another $50 program fee and whatever fees the individual physician charges per appointment.
Buying medical marijuana
The only place patients can purchase medical marijuana products is through the state-certified dispensaries. Only five dispensaries have received their certificates of operation as of Jan. 14, the closest being in Sandusky.
Patients must bring their patient registry card and government-issued ID with them to dispensary, according to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy.
Risk for abuse
“Any product that crosses the blood-brain barrier can have addiction potential,” said Dr. Rajbir Bajwa, a certified physician who runs Medical Cannabis of Northwest Ohio in Wapakoneta. “Doctors should do their due diligence talking to patients and giving them informed consent about addiction. Some people will use for the medical indication, relief of pain, reduction of inflammation, anti-tumor effects.
“But some people will like to get high, and if they feel the need to get high every day and feel good and happy every day, that can become addicting.”
That’s one reason why patients are required to follow up with their physician once every three months.
The subjective nature of chronic pain, one of the 21 qualifying conditions, presents another opportunity for abuse within the program.
Pollock said the State Medical Board of Ohio’s oversight of CTR physicians is complaint-driven.
“If there is a complaint made against one of our licensees, we would investigate,” she said. “We would make sure they’re following the regulations that we established for those physicians, specifically looking at that standard of care rule.”
The standard of care rule “outlines everything that a physician needs to be doing, which includes an in-person visit at least once per year,” Pollock said.