CINCINNATI – Since medical marijuana became legal in Ohio in September, the rules for who can grow, test, sell and buy the sticky green drug are still being written.
Since October, a 14-member advisory board has been overseeing the rule-making process. By early May, rules for marijuana cultivators are expected to be adopted. Meanwhile, draft rules have been released for physicians, dispensaries, patients and testing laboratories.
“This is a critical phase in establishing Ohio’s medical marijuana industry,” said Chris Walsh, of Marijuana Business Daily, a Denver-based news and marijuana market research firm.
“It’s all about finding the right balance of regulation, but the big challenge is there is no blueprint to work from,” Walsh said. “Every state has done this differently, and it usually takes longer than expected.”
Ohio’s program is expected to be up and running by September 2018, but some proposed rules have advocates concerned that big delays could be ahead.
As written, the law bans private laboratories from testing medical marijuana for at least the first year of the program. Instead, the work will be required to be done at a public university.
“That could be a huge set back,” Walsh said.
Since medical marijuana is still illegal federally, some universities may be wary of risking federal grants if they take up the work, Walsh said. Setting up secure laboratories and buying equipment needed for testing could also be a costly and lengthily process, he added.
“If no universities step up, that will be a major barrier to getting Ohio’s program off the ground,” Walsh said.
So far, no public university has announced interest in doing the job – a process that’s proposed to come with a $20,000 price tag to apply and win the right to operate a lab.
“If I was a patient or an investor, I’d be worried about how this is going to play out,” Walsh said.
As the rule-making effort moves forward, here’s a look at what else has been proposed and frequently asked questions about Ohio’s new medical pot laws.
Where can medical marijuana be grown?
Up to 24 grow sites -- broken up into two groups -- have been recommended: At least 12 large sites with 25,000 square feet of space for growing, and 12 small sites with up to 3,000 square feet. Large cultivators will be charged a $20,000 application fee and a $180,000 operating licensing fee each year. Smaller cultivators will pay a $2,000 application fee and an $18,000 operating fee annually.
Where will medical marijuana be sold?
The law allows local governments to restrict where marijuana-related businesses can be located or ban them entirely from operating. Under proposed rules from Ohio's Pharmacy Board released, Ohio will 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 can review whether more dispensaries are needed, based on the state's population and patient demand. Dispensary owners will be asked to pay a $5,000 application fee and an $80,000 operating fee every two years.
What conditions qualify for medical marijuana use?
These are the conditions included in the law. The medical board can reduce or expand upon this list.
Acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS/HIV)
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS)
Chronic traumatic encephalopathy
Epilepsy or another seizure disorder
Inflammatory bowel disease
Pain that is either chronic and severe or intractable
Post-traumatic stress disorder
Sickle cell anemia
Spinal cord disease or injury
Traumatic brain injury
How much medical marijuana can Ohioans buy?
Patients may purchase up to six ounces every three months under proposed rules from the Ohio Board of Pharmacy. But that’s only if the plant has 23 percent THC – the chemicals that produce a user's high. The rules allow for four ounces every three months if the plants have 23.1 percent to 35 percent THC.
Who is crafting the rules?
Three state agencies have been charged with rule making and oversight of the new program once it’s up and running. They include:
Ohio's Department of Commerce, which will be in charge of licenses and compliance of cultivators, processors and testing labs
Ohio's Medical Board, which will certify physicians who recommend marijuana to patients
Ohio's Pharmacy Board, which will oversee patient registration and licensing of medical marijuana dispensaries. Under the law, epilepsy, cancer, chronic pain and Alzheimer’s Disease are among the list of more than 20 conditions that would qualify patients for medical marijuana use.
Where can I find proposed rules?
Ohio’s new Medical Marijuana Control Program has launched a website where it posts draft rules, final rules and meeting times and agendas for the advisory board.
Can I use medical marijuana now in Ohio?
While Ohio’s law does establish an “affirmative defense” for patients who have a qualifying medical condition and written permission from their doctor, rules still haven’t been written for where medical pot can be legally grown and purchased in the state.
“The important thing to remember is (affirmative defense) doesn’t mean you can’t be prosecuted,” said Douglas Berman, a professor at The Ohio State University who teaches a marijuana law class.
“It just means if you are, this is the defense you can use in court to ask a judge to dismiss the complaint," Berman said. "It doesn’t mean you avoid the hassle of the courts.”