Ohio could be 'behemoth' in medical marijuana industry, but for growers, it's quite the process

CINCINNATI - Dozens of entrepreneurs are racing to meet newly set June deadlines to file their bids to be the main suppliers of medical marijuana in Ohio.

The state recently released rules and the application process for those hoping to land one of 24 cultivation licenses that will be awarded by the Ohio Department of Commerce later this year.

For those who land a license, the possible payoff is winning a slice of what could be one of the largest medical marijuana markets in the U.S.

RELATED: Meet the people who might become Ohio's medical pot farmers

“Ohio has the potential to be a serious heavyweight in this industry,” said Chris Walsh of Marijuana Business Daily, a Colorado-based news and research firm. “In terms of patient counts and retail revenues, Ohio could become a behemoth, but there are a lot of caveats to that.”

Ohio expects to issue up to 12 “Level 1” licenses for larger cultivators whose operations will be at least 25,000 square feet of growing space. Another 12 “Level II” licenses will go to smaller growers whose operations are 3,000 square feet or less.

Those vying for a Level II license must submit their applications to the state between June 5 and June 16. Level I license seekers must turn theirs in between June 19 and June 30.

Ohio, which legalized medical marijuana in September 2016, has set some of the highest fees of any state with legal pot laws on their books.

RELATED: Medical marijuana 101: What's legal, what's not in Ohio

For large growers, the initial application fee is $20,000, with a $180,000 annual licensing fee. Smaller growers  must pay a $2,000 application fee and an $18,000 license fee annually. Those who apply and don’t make the cut lose their application fee.

The fees will go to cover the costs associated with ensuring the new industry complies with Ohio’s rules – a job that will be led by newly created Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program.

Also part of the application process, growers must present documentation detailing their financial ability to launch the new venture. Large growers must show they have at least $500,000 in liquid assets, and small growers must have at least $50,000 in assets.

Community support key for new ventures

Even those with the financial fortitude may face other big hurdles as they hustle to complete the voluminous application.

Growers must also find communities willing to welcome the still federally illegal operations. Applicants must show local communities support their plans and confirm that no bans or moratoriums are on the books.

Communities across Ohio have been weighing whether to give the green light to pot-related businesses. This week the city of Fairfield voted to ban the sale of medical marijuana. Officials in Liberty Township last year approved a one-year ban that would keep any marijuana-related business from opening.

RELATED: Is a legal pot shop coming to your community?

But some communities are embracing the new ventures.

Wilmington’s top leaders have offered their support for a nearly 20-acre medical marijuana campus proposed by CannAscend Ohio, a subsidiary of Cincinnati-base Green Light Acquisitions. If all goes as planned, the campus could create up to 300 jobs, said James Gould, Chairman of Green Light Acquisitions. 

“We’ve been across the entire U.S., doing our homework,” Gould said. “(Wilmington) was very supportive, and we feel like they’re going to be a strong partner.”

Wilmington Mayor John Stanforth declined to speak with WCPO, but issued this statement:

“The growth of plant-based pharmaceuticals represents an important new trend in medical science," Stanforth said. "The resulting jobs and potential for greater research opportunities offers important prospects for partnerships with area colleges that have a focus on agriculture science, chemistry and biology. We're pleased to take this critical step to bring much-needed relief to pain sufferers who can benefit from these new legal remedies.”

Application materials can be found on Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program website.  The Department of Commerce is planning a webinar May 1 for those seeking more details about the application process.

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