High prices holding back Ohio medical marijuana sales

Study show prices have barely dropped since beginning of program despite increase in dispensaries.

A new study shows about half of Ohioans surveyed are dissatisfied with the medical marijuana program because of high prices.

About 62% of people surveyed are “somewhat dissatisfied” or “extremely dissatisfied” with the program. The study, conducted by the Ohio State University’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, surveyed about 400 Ohioans who were either current registered patients or could be considered potential patients for the Ohio medical marijuana program.

“The price in Ohio is double what it is on the illicit market and it’s even double what it is in some other states, like Michigan,” said Jana Hrdinová, an author of the study. “In two years the price hasn’t changed much, despite the fact that the number of dispensaries has increased dramatically.”

According to the study, in 2019, the average price per gram of marijuana at an Ohio dispensary was $18.47.

In 2020, the average price is $18.18. The average price of marijuana on the street is $8.42, according to the study. At a Michigan dispensary, the average price for that amount of marijuana is $9.38.

The survey was also conducted in 2019, when 48% of respondents said they were “extremely dissatisfied” with the medical marijuana program. Hrdinová said the number of people who were happy with the program went up in 2020.

About a third of people surveyed this year said they were satisfied with the program.

Hrdinová said the study skews toward people in favor of legalizing marijuana and is not necessarily reflective of the general Ohio population. A few respondents said they had a moral objection with using marijuana.

Eighty-six percent of surveyed Ohioans reported a qualifying condition under the medical marijuana program. The majority of respondents with a qualifying condition reported that they had chronic, severe or intractable pain.

Medical marijuana became legal in Ohio on Sept. 8, 2016 when House Bill 523 became law and created the framework for the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program. As of Aug. 17, the most recent data available, more than 21,000 pounds of plant material have been sold, totaling $176.1 million in product sales since the beginning of the medical marijuana program.

“If you ask people whether they would prefer to buy from legal sources, people are not generally unwilling to become customers of legal dispensaries. What’s preventing them from doing so is the illegality on the federal level and the high price,” Hrdinová said. “I think the take away should be, if medical dispensaries could lower the price of the product, they might see a bigger influx of patients.”

Larry Pegram, owner and CEO of Pure Ohio Wellness, said the medical marijuana industry is extremely expensive to get into and that is why prices remain high.

“Most businesses are just trying to recoup the costs from starting up,” Pegram said. “The up-front costs of starting in this industry are high. Licenses are expensive, we have a higher tax rate.”

Pure Ohio Wellness has dispensaries at 1875 Needmore Road in Dayton and 1711 W. Main St. in Springfield. Pegram said the company also plans to open a dispensary in Logan, Ohio. They also own a grower, which Pegram said helps Pure Ohio Wellness keep their prices down.

“We try to pass those savings down to our customers,” Pegram said. “We know that price is the No. 1 complaint.”

Pegram claimed that Pure Ohio Wellness has the lowest prices in the state. Online prices at area dispensaries are varied for strains and the quantity.

Hrdinová said she thinks the increase in satisfaction with the medical marijuana program has to do with more dispensaries opening and becoming operational.

“If you look at the distance people have to travel, it has decreased dramatically,” she said.

The study also found that about a third of people surveyed don’t use medical marijuana for fear of losing their job or getting in some other kind of trouble.

“Even people who might benefit and might want to use, they’re not doing so because of fears,” Hrdinová said.

Pegram said he sees the stigma around medical marijuana lessening over time. Pegram said the coronavirus pandemic helped legitimize the new industry because it was deemed essential.

“We’re seeing that stigma starting to fall away because people are starting to see this as a viable medicine,” he said.

Pegram said Pure Ohio Wellness and others in the medical marijuana industry are constantly working with the state to improve the program.

“We’re trying to work to make the program better. We’re working with the state to make it easier for patients,” Pegram said.

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