State lawmakers underestimated the complexity of setting the framework for Ohio’s first major step into legalizing marijuana.
House Bill 523 was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich two years ago this month, but it gave officials two years to fully implement the new industry.
Apparently, they needed longer.
Medical marijuana is required by the law to be available to patients beginning Sept. 8, a week from today, but the state will apparently not meet the deadline.
One big reason is because many of the pot plants that will be processed into the products that patients will be able to purchase are still in the ground, and not ready for harvest.
The late rollout of medical pot is unfortunate on various levels, but primarily to those who are counting on it to alleviate pain, inflammation or nausea. But it is still better for the state to get it right than to create problems that would undermine the law.
Ohio’s medical marijuana rules are said to be among the most conservative of the 30 states that allow it.
The Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program came about in a rush in 2016, after a statewide ballot issue that would have legalized both medical and recreational pot was defeated in November 2015. Lawmakers believed that they had to act before another issue was proposed and approved.
The law authorizes marijuana use by patients with 21 different conditions, ranging from AIDS to ulcerative colitis, in the form of edibles, oils, patches and vaporizing. Patients and caregivers will be allowed to possess up to a 90-day supply, but smoking or growing pot is prohibited. At some point, medical marijuana patients and their caregivers will be required to register with the State Board of Pharmacy, which will issue state ID cards.
Once registered, the law prohibits the State Board of Pharmacy, as well as licensed dispensaries, from making personal identifying information public. Doctors and those employed by dispensaries where medical pot is distributed will be able to verify a patient or caregiver’s registration.
With three agencies — the pharmacy board, the medical board, and Department of Commerce — involved in setting the program’s guidelines and rules, progress toward the implementation date sometimes got sidetracked.
It’s taken more time than expected for regulators to select and certify the hundreds of entities that applied to become involved in the state’s medical marijuana business. Dispensary locations had to be decided and marijuana cultivators had to become certified before they could begin to plant. Testing and research licenses also had to be awarded, marijuana processors had to be lined up, and doctors had to be approved in order to “recommend,” not prescribe, medical marijuana to their patients.
The program has added layers of bureaucracy to the agencies involved in the implementation.
Many communities in Ohio took a wary approach after lawmakers approved the marijuana law in 2016. Some cities moved to ban medical marijuana, but others, including Findlay, chose to issue a moratorium until guidelines were in place. The city’s moratorium expires Sept. 8, and with so many safeguards established, there would seem no real need to extend it.
Yes, Ohio’s painstaking move to a controlled and monitored medical form of marijuana will have a learning curve. Still, unreasonable delays and burdens must not be placed on those who are now eligible to use marijuana for health purposes under state law.