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Ohio's Medical Marijuana Program Still Hitting Roadbumps

Carmen Fultz, an employee of Buckeye Relief LLC, sorts the male and female marijuana plants inside a Veg Room, in Eastlake, Ohio.
David Dermer
Associated Press
Carmen Fultz, an employee of Buckeye Relief LLC, sorts the male and female marijuana plants inside a Veg Room, in Eastlake, Ohio.

Since Ohio passed its medical marijuana law in 2016, very few growing sites, processing facilities and dispensaries have actually been approved by the state. This delay is slowing down the expansion of the cannabis industry. 

Tess Bennett's article "A Budding Industry" in the Devil Strip outlines the state of the medical marijuana industry in Akron. She said the state's not to blame because of how new the regulation process is for Ohio.

"Roadbumps are to be expected," Bennett said.

No dispensaries have opened in Summit County, but Bennett says they might not be too far away. Dispensaries have opened in Cuyahoga County and in the Canton area, as well as in Columbus.

These dispensaries so far offer only dry buds of marijuana. Bennett said people with a prescription can use these buds in vaporizers and edibles, but they can't smoke it – that's still illegal.

Bennett said people can expect to see more options like oils and tinctures on the shelves in the not-too-distant future.

Akron, which instituted a moratorium on medical marijuana after legalization, is now home to three cultivation sites which have already seen their first harvests this year. Bennett thinks the city's main concern was zoning. Shes said Mayor Dan Horrigan and Akron City Council were concerned these facilities could be put too close to residential areas.

To be eligible for purchase, patients need to consult with one of 10 certified doctors in the Akron area.

If a patient's symptoms align with one of 21 ailments eligible for medical marijuana, the doctor will give the patient a written recommendation. The approved conditions include:

  • AIDS
  • Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis
  • Alzheimer’s Disease
  • Cancer
  • Chronic Traumatic Encephalopathy
  • Crohn’s Disease
  • Epilepsy or another seizure disorder
  • Fibromyalgia
  • Glaucoma
  • Hepatitis C
  • Inflammatory Bowel Disease
  • Multiple Sclerosis
  • Pain that is either chronic and severe, or intractable
  • Parkinson’s Disease
  • HIV
  • Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
  • Sickle Cell Anemia
  • Spinal cord disease or injury
  • Tourette’s Syndrome
  • Traumatic brain jury
  • Ulcerative Colitis

While a recommendation is enough to buy medical marijuana, Bennett said many people still get a medical card online. Bennett said the card adds some legal protection because marijuana is still illegal on the federal level.
This legal distinction has also presented problems with corporations opening in multiple states. The federal law blocks federal banks and creditors to take money from companies profiting from marijuana. These companies are denied loans, and can't open a company bank account.

Most transactions are cash-based and the state sends an armored car at the end of the day to collect taxes – all in cash.

Bennett said the problems don't stop there. Ohio companies have also run into problems with construction and licensing. One dispensary, she said, held a grand opening ceremony but never actually opened.

She says the state is ready to get the marijuana market up and running and help these companies be successful, but not without some safeguards and provisions.

David Williams is an intern at WKSU for summer 2019. A junior at Kent State, Williams is pursuing a bachelor’s degree in multimedia journalism. Williams has reported for The Kent Stater, the university’s student-run newspaper, since spring 2018. His interests include history and politics.
Andrew joined WKSU News in 2014. He oversees the daily operations of the WKSU news department and its reporters and hosts, coordinates daily coverage, and serves as editor. His commitment is to help foster reporting that marks the best of what public radio has to offer: a mix of first-rate journalism with great storytelling. His responsibilities also include long-term strategic planning for news coverage in Northeast Ohio that serves WKSU’s audience via on-air, online, by social media and through emerging technologies. You can also hear Andrew on-air daily as the local host for Here and Now, Fresh Air, and The World.