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Ohio patients may have to wait a little longer for legal marijuana

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COLUMBUS — Pot is legally being grown today in Ohio, but the state admits its fledgling medical marijuana program will not be fully operational by the statutory target of Sept. 8.

There is still no product that can be legally purchased in Ohio, but the state considers itself to be technically compliant with that legal target date four weeks away.

“Now those words on a page [in a law] have become licensed businesses, employers, [and] doctors, and I think that’s a very important thing to step back and see,” Mark Hamlin, senior policy adviser with the Department of Commerce, told members of the Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee on Thursday.

“I understand…that the public’s expectations around Sept. 8 have been for product to be available…It is coming together,” he said.

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The first certificate of operation has been issued for a large-scale growing operation in Lake County, with inspections of the remaining large and smaller operations that have been provisionally licensed expected to take place in late August or early September.

The state estimates that it could take 16 to 22 weeks for plants to mature for the market, depending on whether they are planted by seed or as seedlings. Some cultivators say they could have product available by the end of the year.

Ohio law prohibits the smoking of marijuana, the home-growing of plants, and the sale of products considered attractive to children. All finished products must be purchased through a dispensary licensed by the Board of Pharmacy.

The department issued provisional licenses last week for seven processors, including Ohio Green Grow LLC for its planned facility at 367 E. State Line Road in Toledo. The processors will turn plant product from the cultivators into vapor, oil, patch, tincture, edible, and plant matter forms allowed to sold by dispensaries.

Six more processor licenses are expected to be announced within days. Two public universities have been licensed to test product for safety and potency and private testing licenses are expected to be awarded soon.

The State Medical Board has issued certificates to 222 physicians to legally recommend the use of marijuana to their patients.

The Board of Pharmacy and State Medical Board both consider themselves to be fully compliant with their share of the law. The pharmacy board’s registry is ready for the first patient to be added, but that registry remains unoperational because it may still be months before product that can be legally purchased in Ohio.

At issue is the so-called “affirmative defense” included in Ohio’s law. That defense generally allows a patient who would otherwise qualify for treatment by medical marijuana under Ohio’s law if it were in operation to obtain product from another state, such as Michigan. Then, if that patent is stopped by police and found to be in possession of marijuana, they could offer that “affirmative defense” before a judge.

The judge is not obligated to accept that argument, and some have not.

“If we open a registry today, that goes away, and there’s no product on the shelf,” said Erin Reed, senior legal counsel for the Board of Pharmacy.

Bob Bridges, an advisory committee member representing patients, said the affirmative defense isn’t working anyway.

“Affirmative defense is an idea,” he said. “But when a patient gets pulled over on the side of the road, that’s when the process starts. Law enforcement does not care right now. All law enforcement sees is you have a pound of marijuana in your car. We’re going to confiscate that marijuana. We’re going to take you in, fingerprint you, process you. Then you either wait in jail or post bail. Then you go to court for your arraignment, and then you go to your hearing where you can give your affirmative defense.

“Now you’ve lost money,” he said. “You could have lost your job over this.”

The advisory committee update came at its last meeting before the Sept. 8 target and the first meeting after at least one license had been issued to a business in each sector of the new industry.

“Sept. 8 is a really important date,” Mr. Hamlin said. “It always was. We are setting up a licensing and regulatory framework for an industry that’s going to be in Ohio from now on…In no way shape or form do we think the program is fully where we want to be.”

Ohio has provisionally licensed 14 larger cultivators, including Standard Wellness Company LLC, of Gibsonburg, and OPC Cultivation LLC, of Huron. It has issued provisional licenses to 12 smaller-scale growing operations, including OhiGrow LLC in Toledo.

Contact Jim Provance at jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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