COLUMBUS – Ohio patients will not be able to buy marijuana on Sept. 8, the anticipated start date for Ohio’s medical cannabis program.
In fact, it could take weeks more before medicinal weed is available for patients. Even then, it’s likely to be available only in limited quantities.
Delays in licensing 25 marijuana growers in Ohio have pushed back the program’s launch, the Ohio Department of Commerce said Tuesday. Before planting can begin, the growers must have their facilities inspected by the state and be granted a certificate of operation.
“We really should have had plants in the ground by this time,” said Mark Hamlin, a Ohio Commerce Department spokesman.
Ohio legalized medical marijuana in June 2016, saying people could buy it out of state if they had a doctor’s note – although few people have taken that option. Meanwhile, the state has been working toward setting up its own marijuana growers and dispensaries.
The rollout has been fraught with hiccups and delays.
So far, just one large grower – Pure Ohio Wellness – has had its facility inspected but did not receive a certificate of operation. The Commerce Department, which regulates the growers, is continuing to work with the company to pass inspection.
“This is a miserable failure,” said state Sen. Kenny Yuko, a Cleveland-area Democrat who has championed medical marijuana, of the delayed launch. The patients who were hoping to use marijuana to cope with pain, seizures, digestive problems and the like “had so much hope and trust,” Yuko said. “It was taken away.”
State regulators are promising progress. Two more small growers will be inspected later this month, Hamlin said. And five large growers are slated for inspection in July.
Still, even if all of the growers got their certificates of operation at the time of inspection, it’s highly unlikely that they would be able grow marijuana and have it ready for sale Sept. 8, Hamlin said.
Even when medical marijuana does become available, Hamlin said, “supplies on Day One will be very limited, and even intermittent, until production catches up to the market.”
Hamlin insisted the program will still be “fully functional” by Sept. 8, as required under the law. He said the law simply requires the regulatory framework for the program be established by Sept. 8.
“We recognize that along the way the public expectation became that there would be medical marijuana available for patients on Sept. 8,” he said.
“Our role was to be ready to inspect them (growers) when they were ready for us, and we’ve been ready to do that since March,” he said.
Nicole Scholten has been working toward marijuana legalization in hopes of using the drug as a treatment for her 14-year-old daughter, Lucy, who has debilitating epilepsy. The delay past Sept. 8 doesn’t surprise her.
“I think that the law was written not with patients at the fore,” Scholten explained.
Ohio isn’t the only state to have delayed its medical marijuana rollout, said Charlie Bachtell, CEO of Cresco Labs, which is building a facility to grow marijuana in Yellow Springs. Illinois, Pennsylvania and Puerto Rico had similar holdups.
“It’s more important for a state to get this right than to try to hit deadlines that might have looked good on paper,” Bachtell said.
In Ohio, Cresco Labs was awarded a license in November and broke ground in December. But construction faced setbacks because of Ohio’s cold and wet winter, Bachtell said.
The facility has scheduled its state inspection for the second week of July. If it passes that test, workers could grow marijuana plants in about 90 days, he said. Theoretically, marijuana from Cresco could be available in October.
“Delays are going to be measured in a matter of days and weeks – not months,” said Bachtell. He praised Ohio Department of Commerce’s regulators for their efficiency.
A longer wait to put medical marijuana on shelves has consequences, Scholten said.
“Every day that this is delayed, people who are very sick, whose medicine is not working for them, they’re making terrible decisions: to uproot their families, to engage in criminal behavior (to get marijuana) or to wait,” she said.
By: Jessie Balmert, Chrissie Thompson and Randy Tucker