Officials urged to speed up Ohio pot rules

COLUMBUS — Ohio could still be a year and a half away from having its medical marijuana program up and running, prompting some to urge state regulators to speed up the writing of the rules under which the program will operate.

“It’s sort of the drudgery of state government. We have to let the process play out,” said Aaron Marshall, spokesman for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana. “As much as we’d like to push the pace, there doesn’t seem to be a desire among state regulators to do so. So we wait, and wait, and wait.”

As of Sept. 8, 2016, Ohio has legalized cannabis for medical use only. But patients are forbidden from growing their own, and it could be as late as Sept. 8, 2018, before the first cannabis oil, edible pot, patch, tincture, plant matter, or vapor may be sold at a licensed retail dispensary.

In the meantime, signs have popped up in the Toledo area advertising Ohio Medical “Marajuana” Cards that are legally suspect given cards can only be issued by the state of Ohio.

“Those cards are probably not worth the paper they’re printed on,” Mr. Marshall said. “It’s unfortunate, but not totally unexpected, to see people moving in to take advantage of this legal gray area in Ohio right now.”

The Department of Commerce has submitted its proposed rules for cannabis growers to the Common Sense Initiative, which is reviewing how they might affect business.

Those rules face the earliest of the deadlines for final approval — May 6 — so that they could be in place in time to have raw plant material ready to provide to labs for testing and for processors to produce the products to be sold when the program becomes fully operational no later than Sept. 8, 2018.

Commerce spokesman Kerry Francis said proposed rules for processors and testing laboratories will be rolled out in coming months. Those must be finalized by Sept. 8 this year.

Some of those behind House Bill 523, the law that legalized medical marijuana in Ohio, had predicted the rule-writing process could move quickly with a functional program in place well before the Sept. 8, 2018, deadline.

The Ohio Board of Pharmacy and State Medical Board have proposed their rules for the operation of the pharmacist-led retail dispensaries and for certifying physicians who could recommend their use for patients with qualifying diseases and conditions spelled out in the law.

Commerce’s rules for cultivators would allow for the issuance of licenses in advance of Sept. 8, 2018, for up to 24 geographically scattered sites to be determined later — 12 larger facilities with up to 25,000 square feet of growing space, and 12 smaller sites with up to 3,000 square feet. Beginning on Sept. 9, 2018, Commerce could award more licenses if it determines supply won’t meet demand, and those already issued licensees could seek approval to expand.

No one could own or hold an interest in more than one site at any given time.

Mr. Marshall praised Commerce for increasing the total number of licenses and potential square footage since it originally proposed rules last fall.

The larger facilities would pay a one-time application fee of $20,000 and an initial $180,000 license fee. Smaller sites would pay a $2,000 application and $18,000 initial licensing fees. After the first year, the annual license fees would be renewed at $200,000 and $20,000, respectively.

Pharmacy’s proposed rules would allow for the issuance before Sept. 8, 2018, of up to 40 provisional licenses for retail dispensaries. More could be licensed after that date to meet demand.

An applicant for a license would pay a one-time fee of $5,000. An operating license would cost $80,000 every two years.

The State Medical Board’s proposed rules spell out which physicians may or may not receive state certificates that allow them to issue cannabis recommendations to patients.

The Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review will hold public hearings on the various proposed rules later this year.

Johnny created the website OhioCannabis.com as a social-networking site and marketing platform for patients and businesses that he believes would benefit from a medical marijuana market.

“There’s been so much in-fighting over who will control it and who profits off it,” he said. “This will be such a massive industry in Ohio that there will be plenty of room for everyone. People who get licenses will become very rich. I’m not going to be licensed. I’m going to stay on the media side of this.”

He urged regulators to find some way to provide access to medical cannabis immediately, potentially through a partnership with Michigan.

Ohio law permits reciprocation agreements in which states recognize each other’s patient registration cards but only with states with programs similar to Ohio’s. Michigan allows smoking and home-growing of pot, both of which are prohibited in Ohio.

“They said they don’t want to allow smoking or home grow, but once you bring [the product] back to Ohio, you have to abide by Ohio guidelines,” Johnny said. “They need to come together and figure out how.”

Those interested in examining the rules and track the program’s evolution can do so at medicalmarijuana.ohio.gov/rules.

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