Ohio activates medical marijuana patient registry, but wait continues

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The activation of Ohio’s medical marijuana patient registry this week means selected physicians can now begin inputting qualified patients and caregivers, but officials said the delayed program still won’t be fully implemented for months.

Prospective patients have already watched an initial Sept. 8 state deadline pass without product in dispensaries. That wait will continue, said Ali Simon, the public and policy affairs liaison with the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy.

“What’s important to recognize is — we’ve seen this in other states as well — it’s going to be a very small batch initially of medical marijuana made available,” she said. “But then as more and more cultivators have harvests, we’ll see more and more product reach the shelf into the early months of 2019.”

Eric Alexander of Tipp City said the first thing he’s going to ask during a doctor’s appointment next week is how to get medical marijuana.

“If it would help, that would be great,” he said. “Because I want to get back outside again.”

Alexander woke up on his birthday in 2006 paralyzed. The paralysis went away but not the debilitating pain — especially in his feet — said Alexander, 58, who also has tumors running the length of his spine.

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“I would just like to see if it would help me — that pain — or at least help me sleep at night,” he said.

But the doctor that visits Alexander will have to be one of about 300 currently certified by the state to recommend marijuana, which is the first step in becoming a registered patient.

Ohio dispensaries are allowed to sell 90-day supplies of medical marijuana as oils, tinctures, plant material, edibles and patches. Patients are allowed to vape plant material, but forbidden to light up.

Patients must provide physicians like Dr. Oscar Cataldi Jr. of Fairborn who works for Ohio Marijuana Card with medical records showing they have one or more 21 qualifying conditions which include Alzheimer’s disease, cancer, chronic pain and post-traumatic stress disorder.

“The registry in itself is valuable, it will help separate people who have gone through the process of authorized use of medical marijuana versus the people using it for recreational purposes,” Cataldi said.

Securing a doctor’s recommendation before signing onto Ohio’s Patient and Caregiver Registry is “something that gets lost in translation sometimes,” Simon said.

“They need to go to that physician’s office first,” she said.

The registry, which was activated on Monday, is the online portal where physicians with a certificate to recommend medical marijuana will register patients and caregivers. Following that, patients or caregivers will receive an email with instructions about how to complete the process and pay the annual registration fee of $50 for patients and $25 for caregivers. Veterans and low-income patients may be eligible for reduced fees.

The timing of the patient registry also affects the expiration of an affirmative defense that was placed in the law. An affirmative defense for certain criminal charges including knowingly obtaining, possessing, or using marijuana or knowingly using or possessing marijuana drug paraphernalia will expire on Feb. 1, 2019 or 60 days after the registry was activated.

As of Tuesday, none of the 56 entities granted provisional licenses to operate dispensaries has received final approval to sell product, Simon said.

Those 56 entities received provisional licenses from the board.

“We are working, though, to get those dispensaries open,” she said.

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