COLUMBUS – It’s possible medical marijuana will be sold in Ohio by the end of the year, but it won’t happen in November as previously estimated.
Ohio law requires all medical marijuana to be tested for potency and purity before it’s sold in dispensaries. But none of the state’s five licensed testing labs are open.
The two testing labs closest to opening are tentatively scheduled for final inspections in mid-December, the Ohio Department of Commerce’s Mark Hamlin told the Ohio Medical Marijuana Advisory Board on Thursday.
The labs are Hocking Technical College in Nelsonville and a private lab, North Coast Testing Laboratories in Streetsboro. Hamlin said last month the Hocking lab might open in early November.
Meanwhile, a few of the 56 state-licensed dispensaries have asked for preliminary inspections and are scheduling final inspections.
Two dispensaries have had preliminary inspections: Cresco Labs Ohio LLC’s dispensary in Wintersville, outside Steubenville and Ohio Cannabisb Clinic LLC in Coshocton. Cresco also operates a large-scale medical marijuana grow facility in Yellow Springs.
Ten of the state’s 26 licensed medical marijuana cultivators have been allowed to start growing plants. Two small-scale cultivators harvested their first crops in October.
But dispensary operators are waiting on two key pieces of the program: testing labs and the patient registry.
The Ohio State Board of Pharmacy put the registry on hold until a date closer to when dispensaries open and product is available to buy. Under Ohio law, patients have an “affirmative defense” against prosecution for marijuana possession if they have been recommended marijuana by a physician and are otherwise following the medical marijuana program’s rules. That defense expires 60 days from when the registry opens.
“We’re watching the industry,” pharmacy board chief legal counsel Erin Reed said Thursday. “We’re communicating closely with the Department of Commerce for when they expect their licensees to have product available.”
When the first dispensaries do open, state regulators warn, there will be limited amount and variety of medical marijuana available. The first medical cannabis on shelves will likely be dried flower, which can be vaped but not smoked per state law. None of the 14 state-licensed product manufacturers, which make cannabis oils, patches, tinctures and edibles, has opened.
Ohio missed its self-imposed September deadline for the program to be “fully operational” after licensing and construction delays. The program allows people with one of 21 qualifying medical conditions to buy and use cannabis if recommended by a state-certified physician.
The state medical board began accepting petitions for new qualifying conditions last week and will review them next year. As of Wednesday, the board reported seven had been submitted for: severe arthritis (two petitions), liver failure, “lots of pain,” premenstrual dysphoric disorder, fibromyalgia, interstitial cystitis. Chronic and severe pain is already a qualifying condition in Ohio.
More: 7 reasons why Ohio won’t be selling medical marijuana in September