Ohio reaches first year of state medical marijuana sales

Posted at 9:31 AM, Jan 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-01-16 19:35:38-05

CLEVELAND (AP) — A year after Joan Caleodis became the first person in Ohio to purchase state-sanctioned medical marijuana, she said she remains mostly satisfied with the program but looks forward to a day when prices for cannabis products drop.

Caleodis, 56, of Martins Ferry in southeast Ohio, said she spends around $300 a month at local dispensaries to buy patches along with dried flowers and cannabis oil, which she vapes, to help treat primary progressive multiple sclerosis.

Thursday marks the one-year anniversary for medical marijuana sales in Ohio.

A retired state worker, Caleodis said that before she began using cannabis she was taking as many as 16 pills a day. Now she takes only a few and has learned which strains of marijuana help her best.

“I haven't slept this good in 15 years,” she said. “We can get the strain you need. On the black market, it's hit or miss."

Along with some critics of Ohio's medical marijuana program, she hopes that prices will start to decrease.

“It's a financial hit when you spend that kind of money on medicine,” Caleodis said.

Patients around Caleodis' age appear to be the norm in Ohio. According to the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program, about 78,000 people have received physician recommendations and have registered with the state to use cannabis. Some 55,000 people have made purchases. Earlier figures show 71% of those who have registered are 40 or older and 29% are over the age of 59.

Mike Petrella, CEO and owner of Ohio Valley Natural Relief, a dispensary in Wintersville where Caleodis shops, said his oldest patient is a 93-year-old woman who buys edibles and a liquid product she drops under her tongue.

“We see her probably every two or three weeks,” Petrella said. “She said it's working great for her. She's amazed by the whole thing.”

Ali Simon, a spokeswoman for the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, said the patient population and demographic breakdown has been “consistent” since the first dispensaries opened for business.

“That hasn't changed as we've added more patients,” she said.

Morgan Fox, a spokesman for the National Cannabis Industry Association, said older buyers have been the fastest-growing consumer base for medical marijuana nationally.

“The stigma is eroding and people are getting better educated," Fox said. "They're changing their minds about the desirability and relative safety of the drug.”

Ohio's program continues to roll out slowly. The law creating the program called for dispensaries to open in September 2018. Twenty of the 32 cultivators granted provisional licenses have received approval to grow cannabis in 2019. While 57 dispensaries have received provisional licenses, just 47 have operation certificates. Just 14 of a planned 43 processors that package marijuana flowers and produce other types of products have certificates of operation.

The Ohio Department of Commerce did not make anyone available for an interview about Ohio's medical marijuana program. Spokeswoman Kelly Whitaker provided an emailed statement that said the department is focused “on ensuring patients have access to safe products.” She said prices for manufactured products have dropped by 52% from a year ago and flower prices have decreased by 35% on average.

Anthony Cordle, 34, a tech worker from the Columbus suburb of Dublin, has become an informal patient advocate, answering people's questions about medical marijuana and Ohio's program on social media. He said he has bought marijuana flower from at least 10 Ohio dispensaries to treat post-traumatic stress disorder, one of the state's 21 qualifying medical conditions.

Cordle said he has concerns about how products are being tested and has for months been trying to get the state to provide test results.

“Quite a few of us believe if we have access to data, it would help patients better,” Cordle said. “It would also expose that our state is not doing a good job of quality control when it comes to testing cannabis.”

Cordle said the strength of the cannabis he buys is inconsistent and will vary from purchase to purchase. He said he needs high-potency marijuana to help him sleep and quell the nightmares from having volunteered for much of his childhood at hospice homes for AIDS patients run by his grandmother.

He and others are disappointed that Ohio does not allow patients to grow their own plants as other states do.

“Without home grow, this industry will never self-regulate,” Cordle said. “They don't have good competition because the only competition is people making money."