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Why Ohio missed its own medical marijuana deadline

6 min read
Medical marijuana in a pill bottle

Medical marijuana is legal in Ohio, but the state missed its own deadline for completing the distribution program.

Ohio has officially puff, puff, passed the deadline for its own medical marijuana program.

Didn’t Ohio Already Legalize Medical Marijuana?

The state legislature first voted to legalize marijuana two years ago, and while state agencies say the regulatory framework has been completed, patients with doctors’ recommendations for the drug cannot legally pick up a prescription.

“It is extremely disappointing that the Ohio legislature has broken its promise to Ohio patients,” Justin Strekal, political director for the National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws, said. “There is no such thing as a compassionate excuse when it comes to denial by delay of therapeutic, physician recommended medication to a patient who is suffering from conditions like cancer, HIV/AIDS, or PTSD.

“It is time for either renewed leadership or new leaders in Ohio.”

Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program was established in House Bill 523, which gave the responsibility of maintaining the system to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, the Department of Commerce, and the State Medical Board.

Since then, the Board of Pharmacy awarded 56 provisional dispensary licenses and issued them in November last year. The Department of Commerce has had a compliance team in place since March of this year to inspect those licenses.

“We have been approving certificates to recommend medical marijuana since April 2018. To date, there are 222 Ohio physicians who are certified to recommend,” Tessie Pollock, the director of communications for the Medical Board, said in an email. “You also need to recognize that this is a private industry and the individual licensees will make their own operating decisions.”

Stephanie Gostomski, the assistant director of communications for the Department of Commerce, said weather, equipment shipment delays, slow real estate closings, necessary electricity transformer upgrades, unforeseen renovations, and delayed local permits contributed to the missed deadline.

What Happens When A Legislative Deadline Is Missed?

Ohio isn’t the only state with a legislature that’s slow to provide medical marijuana patients with cannabis.

Gostomski provided links to news coverage of 15 other states that have experienced delays in establishing a medical marijuana program.

“The majority of US states now authorize medical cannabis access by statute,” NORML Deputy Director Paul Armentano said in an email. “Many of these programs have been operational for the better part of two decades. There is no need for Ohio lawmakers to reinvent the wheel or for regulators to unduly delay patients access.”

Gostomski said two different judges in two different decisions have confirmed that the program is operating “appropriately and has a green light to continue.”

When Will Medical Marijuana Be Available in Ohio?

None of the three governing agencies responsible for the medical marijuana program have provided a new deadline for when cannabis will be available in Ohio, but the current estimate is “a few months.” There are still a few steps before that can be possible.

The Board of Pharmacy must develop, test, and launch a patient and caregiver registry no earlier than 60 days before dispensaries have enough cannabis available. The Department of Commerce is responsible for marijuana cultivation, processing, and testing labs.

The Medical Board previously established a timeline for petitioners to add qualifying medical conditions to the program. The submission period begins Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 1 this year.

Gostomski described the two-year timeline as aggressive, but Armentano is convinced that unnecessary bureaucracy is at fault for the missed deadline.

“These delays which compromise public health, and are largely due to the reluctance on the part of politicians and regulators to move forward in an expeditious manner,” Armentano said. “Patients deserve, and must demand, better.”

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