Ohio Misses Deadline for Medical Marijuana Rollout

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By, Julie Carr Smyth

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — While Ohio blew past the Sept. 8, 2018, deadline for rolling out its medical marijuana program, the cannabis industry is confident greener days are coming soon.

It’s not uncommon for states’ marijuana programs to be delayed, sometimes for years, by legal, regulatory or logistical snags, said Tom Rosenberger, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association of Ohio.

“When you think about it, you’re starting the most regulated industry the state probably has from scratch,” he said. “So getting that right takes a little bit of time.”

Licensees will combine to invest more than $100 million in Ohio even before sales have begun, Rosenberger said.

The three offices that share responsibility for Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program — the Commerce Department and the state medical and pharmacy boards — say Ohio’s two-year implementation schedule was aggressive.

They emphasized the progress that’s been made, including certifying about 250 doctors and provisionally licensing 26 large and small growers, four testing labs, 40 processors, and 56 dispensaries.

The state patient registry also is ready to go live when the time is right, said Tess Pollock, a spokeswoman for the state Medical Board.

Ohio native Jill Lamoureux, whose company Pure OH LLC has received a provisional small grower license, lives in Colorado and has been involved in the medical marijuana business since 2009. She said delays are to be expected.

“Ohio has done a good job,” she said.

Mel Kurtz, the owner of Grow Ohio Pharmaceuticals LLC, a large cultivator in central Ohio’s Muskingum County, also has had a positive experience. His facility was scheduled to be inspected in early September 2018, and he expects to have marijuana available for processing as soon as December.

“As with any new venture, you have a substantial learning curve,” Kurtz said. “I think (Commerce) wanted to get it right. Measure three times and cut once.”

Still, some are frustrated. Parents of children with epilepsy, veterans with post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and other prospective medical marijuana patients have watched in frustration as neighboring Pennsylvania has gotten ahead of Ohio on implementation, said Rob Ryan of the Ohio Patient Network.

“It will happen; that’s a given,” he said. “But I think the initial reluctance has had quite a retarding effect on the whole program.”

Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf signed his state’s bill 51 days before Ohio’s — at a public ceremony with hundreds of advocates present. Medical cannabis was available to patients in February 2018, about 22 months later.

Ohio Senate Minority Leader Kenny Yuko, a Cleveland Democrat who co-sponsored the medical marijuana bill, said there’s no excuse for patients not having access to product.

He said he entered the debate holding stereotypes about marijuana that he believes continue to play a role in the fits and starts that Ohio’s medical cannabis program has experienced. He said some state policymakers still argue marijuana has no medicinal value.

“People don’t want to believe it, because they have that perception in their mind — the jokes with Cheech and Chong and Willie Nelson and George Carlin,” he said. “And the fact of the matter is that’s not true anymore.”

No two states are the same, said Ohio Commerce Department Director Jacqueline Williams.

“I feel very confident with the direction that we’ve gone,” she said. “Has everything always worked smoothly and has it been perfect? No. But it’s been a good process, it’s been a thorough process, it’s been unbiased.”

Republican Gov. John Kasich signed Ohio’s medical marijuana law in 2016 — but in private and without comment. One of his first acts afterward was to appoint a leading opponent of legalization to the advisory committee.

“Here’s the problem,” he told the Rubin Report, a YouTube-broadcast talk show, in March 2018. “You can’t tell kids don’t do drugs but, by the way, this drug’s OK. So it’s a problem.”

Williams said she takes “very, very seriously” her connection to the Kasich administration, but the governor’s personal beliefs have not influenced how her department proceeded to build Ohio’s fledgling marijuana industry.

Kasich spokesman Jon Keeling rejected the premise that Ohio has missed any deadline.

“The law required a regulatory system to be up and running by September 8th. We have more than met that deadline,” he said.

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