Ohio's medical marijuana program faces more delays

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Ohio's fledgling medical marijuana program is facing additional administrative hiccups that could further delay the program's rollout statewide.

The program will miss the Sept. 8 deadline to be "fully operational," per state law, because cultivators have only been given the OK to grow plants in recent weeks.

Several other parts of the program are also falling behind schedule.

 

Patient registry

The patient registry will not open as expected in July.

State law allows patients to obtain doctor's notes that can be used as an affirmative defense from prosecution for possessing marijuana and paraphernalia while the state sets up its highly-regulated market. Those "affirmative defense letters" expire 60 days after the patient registry opens.

Erin Reed, chief counsel for the pharmacy board, said the online registration system is ready to be flipped on.

"We're trying to time it right to make sure we don't do it more than 60 days before products are available on dispensary shelves," Reed told the Ohio Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee on Thursday.

If patients registered now, there would be a gap of several weeks or months where they could not buy marijuana at a dispensary nor have legal cover under the affirmative defense.

But patients say the affirmative defense letters have been hard to obtain from doctors who are cautious about the program. There have been recent instances where the letters haven't shielded individuals from raids or arrest.

Bob Bridges, the patient representative on the program's advisory board, said the state should open up the registry to protect patients and caregivers, who aren't covered by the law's affirmative defense.

"It's ridiculous to keep putting patients and caregivers in jeopardy," Bridges said. "Can we at least get the protections to them?"

Bridges said patients have had to resort to using forms created by activists to try to get legal protection while the program gets established. The state has certified 185 doctors to recommend medical marijuana, and patients will be registered at doctors' offices.

Licensing

Licenses for up to 40 product manufacturers, called processors, were expected to be awarded in spring, and then June. But scoring has taken longer than anticipated, in part, because the Department of Commerce wanted to make sure it didn't repeat mistakes made during the cultivator review process, the department's Mark Hamlin said.

Of the 104 companies that applied in December, fewer than 40 met the minimum standards.

Hamlin said all companies that met those standards will receive provisional licenses in the next couple weeks. The rejected applicants will have a chance to correct deficiencies in their applications and resubmit them for scoring and could be issued one of the remaining licenses.

Private testing labs are expected to be licensed in the next two weeks, too. All marijuana must be tested for potency and contaminants before sale. Lab licenses were issued to Hocking Technical College and Central State University in June.

Hamlin also said the department has received a handful of requests from small grow sites that they will need an extension to finish setting up their facilities beyond the nine months allowed in state rules. The agency has three cultivator inspections scheduled for the rest of the month and five scheduled in August.

Once an entity passes inspection, it will be issued a certificate of operation and can begin growing plants, which take three to four months to grow.

The first certificate of operation was issued three weeks ago. The second was issued Wednesday to small-grow licensee Agri-Med Ohio LLC for its Langsville site in Meigs County.

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