OH: Despite Delays, Medical Marijuana A Budding Industry

Photo Credit: Rappler

Ohio is gearing up for the start of its medical marijuana program in September, which is when dispensaries open, but doctors who have been approved by the state to prescribe cannabis are already writing prescriptions to patients in need of relief.

Dr. Daniel Neides, co-founder of Inspire Wellness and a member of Anshe Chesed Fairmount Temple, both in Beachwood, was one of the doctors approved by the state to prescribe marijuana. He said there has been an “overwhelming amount of research showing that cannabis can positively impact chronic diseases, especially those more inflammatory in nature.”

“(Medical marijuana) should at least be a tool in the toolbox when we offer a treatment plan,” he said.

Under Ohio law, marijuana can be prescribed to patients with one of more than 20 different medical conditions, including cancer, multiple sclerosis, Alzheimer’s disease and Crohn’s disease and Parkinson’s disease.

The law prohibits the use of marijuana by smoking or combusting, but allows for vaporization as well as use via oils, tinctures, plant material, edibles and patches. There are also restrictions concerning who can grow it and guidelines for how much and how frequently it can be prescribed.

Neides said he doesn’t specify the form of marijuana for the patient in the prescription; the patient is allowed to choose that, up to the limits provided by the state.

Though the list of qualifying conditions is limited, Neides called it “a good starting point” and was encouraged that the Ohio General Assembly set up a site where doctors and patients can petition the state to include other conditions.

“If there’s a chronic condition, I can petition the board as to why it’s an accepted diagnosis (for medical marijuana),” he said.

Neides, who lives in Cleveland Heights, was still impressed that Ohio got the law together considering the 2015 efforts to legalize the plant in the state was voted down. In 2015, state Issue 3 would have legalized marijuana for both medical and recreational purposes, though the initiative was sunk by worries the state would be giving a monopoly on the marijuana industry to a small group of investors.

“The state recognized that medical cannabis is something that should be brought to constituents,” Neides said. “I think it’s a controversial topic, it’s a Republican-leaning state legislature and they saw this as an important concept. I’m impressed that they took it seriously and realized there were so many medical benefits and (are) willing to take whatever heat came from pushing this legislation. I think it’s a win for patients of Ohio and those who can benefit from this treatment.”

Despite Ohio’s trouble in getting the medical marijuana industry up and running, Neides has been able to prescribe medical marijuana to eligible patients since he was approved by the state on April 11 to prescribe cannabis. He said he found out he was approved to prescribe medical marijuana when a patient came in to ask whether they qualified. He’s noticed about two to four more patients per week since he was approved.

“Most of these people are suffering with things like (multiple sclerosis), Parkinson’s (disease), or post-traumatic stress disorder, (and) they don’t want to wait,” said Neides, adding that though Ohio’s dispensaries aren’t up and running, patients can take their prescriptions to Michigan dispensaries to be filled.

For now, that option is the only option for Ohio residents, as the state’s infrastructure for the medical marijuana program isn’t quite up and running yet. Ohio law required all retailers, growing operations, testing labs and other medical marijuana businesses to be fully operational by Sept. 8, though the Ohio Department of Commerce told Ohio Sen. Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights, that the state won’t be ready by Sept. 8 and will need to push the rollout date back, according to a June 5 news release.

Neides said Ohio’s failure to get the program up and running “hurts.”

“I think it impacts patients,” he said. “Michigan dispensaries are making themselves available (to Ohio patients), but it’s a trek for people. The people who are using this legitimately are suffering. For someone with Lou Gehrig’s disease (ALS) or Parkinson’s (disease) to have to drive three hours to the dispensary is inconvenient and often painful. I feel bad for them that this is continuing to be their only option. Ohio, we’re letting our citizens down. (The state legislature) had two years to develop the infrastructure, which I think is a long time, and to now give an extended date … . So, now there’s this big question mark over everyone’s head as far as to when this will be available.”

Neides feels the other big loser, at least in the short term, is Ohio.

“Michigan, of course, will continue to benefit, while Ohio is waiting to reap the benefits of this tax infrastructure,” he said. “When the people go to Michigan, we lose more and more tax revenue. … To let the dollars go to another state, it hurts. It hurts our economy and it hurts our patients. So that’s a real disappointment. But we will wait until the day comes and when it does, we will be ready.”