Lawsuits, delays push back medical pot launch

It could be January before medical marijuana is sold legally in Ohio.

Credit: Chris Stewart

Credit: Chris Stewart

Ohio’s medical marijuana program was supposed to be “fully operational” earlier in September — dispensaries open, patients registered, labs operating.

But lawsuits, construction delays and other problems piled up, and the Sept. 8 deadline carved into Ohio law passed without a single legal bud being available for patients.

“I hope they get it straightened out soon so people can benefit from it,” said Alanna Sage, 64, a medical marijuana patient in California before moving back to Dayton last year.

Related: Central State medical pot lab will require more police, armored truckThe delays are understandable given all the legal hurdles involved, said Mark Hamlin, senior advisor in the Ohio Department of Commerce, one of three state agencies regulating an industry that is being built from scratch. The other two joint regulators are the Ohio Board of Pharmacy and the State Medical Board of Ohio.

“It is a brand new industry and it’s a very complicated industry to stand up,” Hamlin said.

Related: Here are the 21 health conditions that could qualify you for medical marijuanaHamlin admitted there have been challenges — three major lawsuits, application scoring errors, 67 administrative appeals and intense competition for a limited number of licenses. The state agreed to issue an extra cultivator license after errors were discovered in the scoring. Through it all, state officials have been focused on building a program that will ensure that safe, reliable products will be available for patients over the long haul, he said.

“It’s gone from words on a page to now you have actual brick and mortar businesses being stood up and running,” Hamlin said of the program’s infancy. “And you’ve got employees being hired, you’ve got cultivators growing marijuana in Ohio — legally. You can really see on a horizon when patients are going to be able to walk into a dispensary and purchase medical marijuana.”

The first cultivator to get the go-ahead from the state — Buckeye Relief in Eastlake, Ohio — estimates it will harvest product by December and have it on dispensary shelves just after the first of the year.

For some people, the two-years-and-running window between program launch and having product available has been a frustration.

Lorrie Callahan of West Milton has used both cannabis and cannabidiol, or CBD, for more than two years to reduce chronic pain from multiple sclerosis.

Callahan, 42, said the program “is getting there, but patients are still stuck in the meantime.”

“I don’t want them to be left behind,” Callahan said. “Patients started all of this. They started the movement.”

The Ohio Board of Pharmacy recently announced that CBD oil, or any other marijuana product, can only be dispensed by a licensed medical marijuana dispensary — none of which are yet open. Currently, CBD oil is sold in stores across Ohio.

Calahan said she is angry with the decision about CBD oil. “This is something I need in my life. I’d rather do this than be on a crap load of pharmaceuticals.”

Cresco Labs is building a large scale cultivation operation in Yellow Springs and plans to plant seeds within 72 hours of getting its operations certificate, said Charlie Bachtell, Cresco’s co-founder and chief executive. Product is expected to be harvested about 120 days later.

Credit: Chris Stewart

Credit: Chris Stewart

“I think the Ohio program is set up for success for all of the stakeholders involved. The stakeholders include the general public, potential patients, the administration, the regulators and the operators. I think it’s a very well balanced, professional, highly regulated, compliance-focused program,” Bachtell said.

Cresco has hired 10 workers so far — a number that is expected to increase to 90 if and when the company gets processor and dispensary licenses, Bachtell said.

He added that growing pains while the industry gets underway in Ohio should be expected; the second six-month period will likely be more smooth than the first six months.

Hamlin said Ohio’s medical marijuana industry will look a lot different a year from now. More businesses will be operating, the dispensaries will be open and the program will have a different vibe.

“I think you’ll see it on a different scale and I think some of the novelty of the industry will have worn off,” he said.


Where each element of the medical marijuana program stands:

Growers: Just four of 26 cultivators have the go-ahead from the state to begin operations; six more are scheduled for final inspections this month. Although the state issued provisional licenses in November, demands that some application scoring be re-done and lawsuits threw up delays. Additionally, construction on some growing facilities was delayed by wet weather. The first cultivator in the state put plants in the ground at the end of July and anticipates harvesting product for testing, processing and selling by early next year.

Dispensaries: The state issued 56 provisional licenses to dispensaries on June 4 and they now have until Dec. 4 to get their certificates of operation. The pharmacy board is checking to make sure the licensees fulfill the promises they made on their dispensary applications. Regulators estimate that 56 dispensaries will need a patient population of 16,800 to 33,600 to sustain their business operations.

Patient & Caregiver Registry: The online system is built, tested and ready to go but officials are waiting for a better understanding of when dispensaries will open. Ohio patients' legal defense for having medical marijuana on hand before the program is operational expires 60 days after the registry goes live. The system was built by Appriss at a cost of $520,000. Once the registry is live, patients will be able to set up accounts online and self-print their patient cards or download them to a smart phone. Patients and caregivers will be allowed to have up to a 90-day supply on hand.

Doctors: As of August, the state medical board has approved 222 physicians for 'certificates to recommend.' The list includes 18 doctors in the Dayton-Springfield area.

Hotline: A help line, 833-464-6627, went live June 4 to answer questions about medical marijuana and the state's program. The call center, based in Bellfontaine, operates 7 a.m. to 9 p.m Monday through Saturday and has been averaging 25 calls per day.

Processors: Ten processor licenses were issued in August — none in the Miami Valley. A total of 104 applications were received for up to 40 processor licenses. The processing facilities turn plant material into product lines, such as edibles or oils, that can be sold by dispensaries.

Labs: Two public universities — Central State University and Hocking Technical College — as well as Battelle Memorial Institute and North Coast Testing Laboratories were awarded lab licenses. Five other private entities also applied. Central State is partnering with a Buckeye Agriculture, LLC, a Springfield company operated by Argeri and Yianni Lagos, to provide up to $2.5 million in funding to build out the laboratory and provide working capital, according to the university's application.