OHIO - Central Ohio medical cannabis advocate and patient Angelica Warren called the rollout of Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program “cancerous.” 

  • Meeting the strict regulatory standards has slowed down progress 
  • Cultivators are required to pay an application fee, initial license fee and an annual license renewal fee
  • The state has issued provisional licenses to 56 dispensaries

“I call it cancerous because I was fighting cancer while they were arguing over who would get licenses,” said Warren. “There are many people who have died waiting for the rollout of this program. I can tell you at least six of my friends have passed away. Just in the past two years.”

She says cannabis helped her get her appetite and energy back after treatment for brain tumors, and helps with her epilepsy. 

“After I used it, my friend came over and we ate all of these oatmeal cream pies,” explained Warren. “And, I just remember I went down stairs, and I was able to go outside and walk and I remember it was sunny out. It was the first time I had left the house in months because I was so sick before.” 

And the precarious legal status makes getting medical marijuana, and using it right now, risky. 

“I have ran into a lot of barriers,” said Warren. “With my work, the place that I live, my apartment complex. There are a lot of barriers that state that you cannot use this medicine. I’ve had to get attorneys.”

She came to Ohio Herbal Clinic after meeting. Dr. Simmons through his oncology work. He says other patients share her concern about the rollout. 

“I think people are just frustrated, that’s just mainly it,” says Dr. Simmons. “People have been making their way up to Michigan who is serving the medical marijuana population.” 

Michigan is currently experiencing its own headaches with its medical marijuana program. According to reports, the state passed regulations in 2016 tightening the program, leaving many providers without an operating license. 

“The delays in rolling out a program is pretty standard, it happens in every state,” said Thomas Haren, an attorney with Franz Ward LLP based in Cleveland. “They encounter construction delays, there are unforeseen issues from a regulatory standard that pop up. I actually think the process has been pretty good so far.”

Haren handles clients in the medical marijuana industry, including business owners participating in Ohio’s program. 

“People should keep in mind where we started from in 2016,” said Haren. The legislature passed a bill very quickly and then handed it off to the Board of Commerce and the Board of Pharmacy.”

Wednesday’s first sales of medical marijuana occurred in four dispensaries statewide - two in Wintersville, OH, one in Canton, OH and one in Sandusky, OH. But before it could be sold, it first had to be grown in Ohio by a licensed cultivator with a certificate of operation. 

The product then had to be  tested through a licensed testing facility with a certificate of operation. 

Since Ohio’s program is brand new, the past two years and four months were spent building everything for both businesses and the state.  

“[Regulators] had to start from square one not only to develop the rules for the program, but then go through the process of accepting, scoring applications, dealing with subsequent applications in court, appeals,” said Haren.  “And then working with all of those companies to build all of these new types of facilities that we’ve never had here before.”

To become a cultivator, processor, testing facility or dispensary, businesses had to submit an application to the state with a fee - anywhere from $2,000 to $20,000 depending on the size and type of business.  

The state has so far issued provisional licenses to 27 cultivators, and 14 now have certificates of operation. Zero of the 14 processor provisional license holders have certificates of operation. Five out of the 56 provisionally licensed dispensaries have their green light, and two of five testing facilities.  

Those businesses awarded provisional licenses then had to build their facilities according to guidelines and plans submitted during the application process. With the provisional license, comes another fee - anywhere from $18,000 to $180,000 the first year, and $20,000 to $200,000 annually. Those are state fees, paid in addition to any local and municipal fees and taxes related to business and commercial property ownership. 

Once the facilities are ready, they are inspected by the state to ensure compliance. If requirements are met the facility is issued a certificate of operation. 

“You want to make sure that people follow through on their promises, so there had to be a final inspection done before people can start growing, processing or selling a schedule 1 federally illegal substance,” said Haren. 

Industry experts say it will still be slow to roll out access to everyone near their home - dispensaries are slated to open across the state through 2019. Eventually, dispensaries will carry more product than flower as processing companies get online and begin making products like vaporizing oils, edibles, lotions and other cannabis-based solutions.