Ohio Medical Marijuana Program Hits A Roadblock

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Photo Credit: Cresco Yeltrah

Ohio legislators acted with breakneck speed early in 2016 to craft and enact a detailed program to legalize medical marijuana in the Buckeye State.

After voters overwhelmingly defeated a misguided and monopolistic plan to legalize medical and recreational marijuana at the polls in November 2015, lawmakers worked diligently to head off at the pass much less palatable plans to legalize cannabis by citizen initiative. That speedy action was clearly understandable and in the best interest of Ohioans.

Not so understandable or in the best interests of Ohioans, however, have been the insufferable road bumps that have stalled the much heralded rollout of medical marijuana as a controlled prescription drug in our state.

Today, less than 100 days before the nearly 60 state-licensed cannabis dispensaries were scheduled to begin selling the pain-relieving medication, the closely regulated and highly bureaucratic program has fallen woefully off track.

The Ohio Department of Commerce, the lead marijuana regulatory agency, acknowledged as much earlier this week when it announced the original Sept. 8 deadline won’t have a chance of being met.

Commerce spokeswoman Stephanie Gostomski said that the department expected that the 24 companies awarded licenses to grow marijuana – including one large 25,000-square-foot site on Crescent Street in Youngtown – would have begun growing plants in May.

But as of earlier this week, not one of those sites had received a certificate of operation and as of last week, only one site had been inspected, and even it failed to pass muster.

PATIENTS’ PAIN ENDURES

Countless thousands of Ohioans with any of 21 medical conditions for which cannabis can be prescribed have good reason to be miffed. After all, other states have moved from enacting marijuana legalization to opening of dispensaries in much less time – some in a matter of months.

Ohio’s program with three different sets of bureaucratic leaders – the Department of Commerce, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy and the Ohio Medical Board – has hiccupped and dilly dallied its way to today’s bottleneck

Numerous problems hampered the process of granting Level 1 large-tract growing licenses. Among them were the hiring of a convicted drug-crime felon to score applications and the hiring of an evaluator whose company ended up winning a Level 1 license.

Later, numerous lawsuit were filed by companies not granted licenses, adding to the administrative slog.

The state just this week awarded provisional licenses for nearly 60 dispensary licenses, and some of those license holders will need upward of six months to have their shops ready for full operation.

Speaking in defense of the state, Charlie Bachtell, CEO of Cresco Labs, said, “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 has a point. It is critical that once Ohio gets into the business of dealing in medical marijuana, all i’s must be dotted and t’s crossed to ensure maximum safety and security for consumers of the product and for those living in the shadows of massive growing operations.

At the same time, we will hold leaders at the Department of Commerce at their word that all efforts will be made to get the program implemented as fully and as early as possible before year’s end.

The longer the delay, the longer and more severe the adverse impacts will be. Keep in mind that part of the mission of the legalization move was to provide the state and local communities a source of substantial new tax revenue at a time of belt-tightening across all levels of government.

Of course, the prime motivator for getting the state’s marijuana program on the fast track must be the human factor.

For those in our state suffering post-traumatic stress disorder, Parkinson’s, Alzheimer’s, Crohn’s and Tourette’s diseases, HIV/AIDS, cancer and about 15 other conditions, each additional day’s wait can translate into prolonged torture.

For some, it could mean leaving the state.

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