Ohio could get just 40 medical pot shops

CINCINNATI -- Ohio is considering limiting the number of medical marijuana dispensaries allowed in the state to just 40 -- at least in the first two years of the program, under proposed rules released Thursday.

New laws hit the books in September legalizing medical marijuana, a move that some industry watchers say could pave the road for a more than $400 million industry in Ohio.

The law allows local governments to restrict where marijuana-related businesses can be located or ban them entirely from operating, but rules governing how many businesses will be allowed to grow, process, test and sell the drug are in the process of being written. Many of those rules won't go into place until September 2018.

On Thursday, Ohio's Pharmacy Board released its draft rules for dispensaries. The 66-page document covers everything from who is allowed to operate a dispensary and where the businesses can be located to the costs of applying for a state-issued license.

As proposed, Ohio would issue a maximum of 40 dispensary license leading up to the Sept. 8, 2018 launch of the new program. After that, every two years the state's Medical Marijuana Control Board would review whether more dispensaries are needed, based on the state's population and patient demand. 

Patient advocates say that number may be way to low to support the estimated 188,000 patients who may be eligible for medical marijuana. 

 "That's not nearly enough," said Aaron Marshall, a spokesman for Ohioans for Medical Marijuana. "That would work out to be about 4,700 patients per dispensary which is far too many. We know a lot of work still needs to be done, but this is definitely a concern."

Written comments on the proposed rules are being accepted through January 13, and can be submitted  MMCPRules@pharmacy.ohio.gov.

Among the other proposed rules released Thursday:

  • Each dispensary license applicant must pay a $5,000 fee.
  • To get a certificate of operation, license holders must pay a fee of $80,000.
  • Every two years, license holders must also pay another $80,000 to renew their license with the state.
  • None of the fees are refundable.
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