This was the year Ohioans were supposed to gain full access to medical marijuana — and with just days remaining, it’s still too close to call.
“We are right on the cusp,” said Thomas Rosenberger, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association of Ohio. “If not the end of this year, it’s going to be in the first weeks of 2019.”
Signed into law by Gov. John Kasich in 2016, Ohio’s medical marijuana program offered hope to thousands of patients.
One of the final pieces of getting marijuana to patients — the approval of a testing facility — came late last week. No matter when the program begins, it likely won’t meet demand initially.
The industry struggled this year, missing a key Sept. 8 deadline as growers, processors, testers and dispensary operators slogged through myriad regulatory hurdles required everywhere from city zoning administrators to the state’s marijuana board to even the U.S. Department of Education.
The result also slowed the timetable for the program’s patient and caregiver registry, which went live with just less than a month left this year.
“Obviously, it’s several months behind where everybody had hoped to be,” Rosenberger said. “We’re right there now, and we’re getting pretty close.”
The wait grows shorter every day, Hamlin said.
“There will be product available really, really soon,” he said. “The way I have been describing it is right around the new year, maybe a little after.”
The ‘last piece’
North Coast Testing Laboratories in Streetsboro became the first lab to get final certification to test medical marijuana in Ohio’s fledgling program.
Lack of an approved testing site has been a remaining factor in slowing the start of Ohio’s medical marijuana program.
“Getting a lab with its certificate of operation is really the last piece from a state perspective of now having a clear product supply line,” said Mark Hamlin, a senior policy advisor at the Ohio Department of Commerce.
Other signs the program is nearly ready to deliver include:
- The patient and caregiver registry has drawn 3,460 recommendations, including 2,170 people who since Dec. 3 have already paid fees to activate their cards, according to the State Board of Pharmacy.
- As of Dec. 12, the State Medical Board of Ohio had certified 353 physicians to recommend medical marijuana.
- By last week, 14 cultivators had received certificates of operation. One northeast Ohio grower harvested the first crop in early October and several others quickly followed. Another 13 growers with provisional licenses are waiting final approval to plant.
- Fourteen processors have received provisional licenses and are building out their operations.
- Earlier this month, the first dispensary received a certificate of operation clearing it to open. Another 55 dispensaries have provisional licenses, according to the Ohio Department of Commerce.
The testing facility approved Thursday removed one of the final barriers to getting product on shelves, but one lone lab in northeast Ohio will not long sustain the program. A testing lab at Hocking Technical College was also inspected last week but had not yet received approval as of Thursday.
‘In a bit of a holding pattern’
Central State University has been awarded a provisional license to operate a test lab as part of an ambitious plan to develop a research facility focused on medical pot.
The Central State Institute of Medical Marijuana would be a multimillion-dollar lab that will test and research cannabis with guidance and capital from a Springfield company, Buckeye Agriculture, LLC.
But illustrative of the difficulties surrounding a new — and formerly illegal — business, the university has yet to receive final federal and state approvals to get the facility off the ground, said Laura Wilson, the university’s attorney.
“We are sort of in a bit of a holding pattern,” Wilson said. “We have Land Grant funding, so we have to verify that there is not going to be an issue there and because financial aid funding comes through the federal Department of Education.”
Approvals could take another half year, she said.
“I think the goal would be to try to secure the approvals within the first six months of 2019. I think would be certainly the goal,” Wilson said. “Whether or not that’s achievable is uncertain.”
While a single testing lab may not be able to sustain the system, the approval of one was welcome news for cultivators, some whose plants are already picked and dried.
‘Relief is right around the corner’
Cresco Labs at 1130 Springs Way in Yellow Springs started harvesting its first mature cannabis plants last week.
“This is a very big moment,” said Jason Erkes, Cresco Labs’ spokesman. “People have been waiting in the state of Ohio for a long time for this medicine. People that are suffering … So this gives them that light at the end of the tunnel that relief is right around the corner.”
Because no processor has been approved to operate, the first product sold will be raw, unadulterated marijuana.
And there won’t be much available.
“We know the initial product will be very small,” Hamilin said. “It will be limited as well, and it will be plant material only as we wait for processors to come online.”
When up and running, processors will also provide dispensaries with medical marijuana as oils, tinctures, edibles and patches.
“I think the program is going to scale up pretty quickly,” Erkes said. “You are going to see flower product coming to market first because it’s the quickest to get to market. Then you are going to see concentrates and other products coming to market.”
Another Dayton grower approved
Last week, the state issued two more large cultivator licenses including for another grower in Dayton.
Certified Cultivators at 1654 Springfield St. in Dayton was one getting late approval due following the results of a court case, PharmaCannLLC v. Ohio Department of Commerce, which found Economically Disadvantaged Group (EDG) language in the scoring process as unconstitutional.
Greenleaf Gardens of Middlefield would have received the last license if not for the EDG requirement, and Certified Cultivators received additional administrative hearing points that in context of the court decision put the company in licensing range.
In addition to Cresco Labs and Certified Cultivators, another large area grower includes Pure Ohio Wellness, LLC at 4020 Dayton-Springfield Road in Mad River Twp. outside Springfield. Area sites for the smaller grow operations include: Ancient Roots, U.S. 68, Wilmington; Hemma LLC, 100 Edison Drive, Monroe; Ohio Clean Leaf LLC, 2046 Valley St., Dayton; and Paragon Development Group, LLC, 6212 Executive Blvd., Huber Heights.
Also last week, Dayton’s Landmark Commission approved a revised plan for a Strawberry Fields dispensary at 333 Wayne Ave. CannAscend Ohio LLC recently purchased four real estate parcels in the Oregon Historic District for $1 million.
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