Red cross with a green marijuana leaf in front and the words Marijuana is Medicine

Even though The Ohio State University has researched cannabis to discover new therapeutic benefits, the university is refusing to test cannabis for The Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program.

State law says medical marijuana, like other agricultural products, has to be tested for quality and levels of pesticide, for example, before being sold to the public. And when Ohio legalized medical marijuana in 2016, state lawmakers mandated they would only allow public universities during the program’s first year to test the medicine.

OSU is not alone when it comes to researching cannabis but at the same time refusing to set up a testing lab. The University of Cincinnati and Ohio University are researching cannabis for medicinal uses, to help epileptic children, for example, but have also turned a cold shoulder to the state program.

What’s more, could this double standard by state universities delay the program?

Bob Bridges, the patient advocate on the state’s medical marijuana advisory board, recently told the Columbus Dispatch he doesn’t have confidence the program will be up-and-running for its designated “fully functional” date of September 8th.

State regulators on the other hand have repeatedly said safe and tested medical marijuana will be available at dispensaries on that day. The program may someday help several hundred-thousand patients.

But when state regulators in 2017 requested state universities to apply for a testing license, not a single university stepped forward, and Ohio medical marijuana activists feared the program could be delayed for a year.

Activists still shake their heads in disgust and disbelief. Yes, they are aware the federal government classifies marijuana as a Schedule 1 drug, the same classification as heroin and cocaine, and that testing for the state program could result in DEA raids, the loss of federal funding and hurt a university’s image.

But DEA raids and loss of federal funding have never happened in any state with a medical marijuana program, says Rob Ryan, executive director for medical marijuana non-profit the Ohio Patients Network

He says it’s time Ohio arises out of the Stone Age and get with the program.

“What is a university’s mission?” asks Ryan. “The university’s mission is to understand things, the universe, science, biology, and what better way than this, to get in on the forefront of this new and emerging biotechnology.”

When he sees public institutions cower from furthering medical marijuana, Ryan likes to apply the acronym “FEAR”: False Evidence of Appearing Real.

“There are numerous states that have yet to suffer one iota of federal funding dropped because they have a medical marijuana program,” he says.

What makes OSU’s hypocrisy even greater is the fact one of its most high-profiled researchers, Dr. Gary L. Wenk, professor of psychology and neuroscience, also sits on the advisory board for the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program.

Wenk, a leading authority in chronic brain inflammation and Alzheimer’s disease, has won numerous teaching awards and been interviewed on CNN and the Dr. Oz show. His research with medical marijuana found a low daily dose reduced brain inflammation and improved memory with aged rats.

Wenk also found marijuana could produce new neurons in older rat brains. The problem is federal law makes it illegal to test marijuana on humans.

Wenk spoke to the Free Press but did not offer an opinion on whether he believes OSU should test the medicine. However, he did say many professors at OSU want to research medical marijuana – but not just on animals.

“OSU would love to do it (research medical marijuana on humans),” he said. “I know there are many physicians who feel strongly it has quite a few benefits they would like to explore. But the university could risk losing their federal funding. It’s too darn risky.”

Seeing Ohio’s dilemma in 2017 when no university stepped forward to test the medicine, a medical marijuana testing expert from California, who was born and raised in Ohio, decided it was time to come home and offer his expertise. Dr. Jonathan Cachat, 32, president of Conscious Cannabis Ventures Research, moved back to Ohio and began pitching universities and colleges the benefits of testing.

He knocked on the doors of twelve other universities and colleges. All rebuffed him.

“I heard a slew of made-up excuses,” he says. “Some thought cannabis was deadly and fatal, but many we’re afraid their college name and cannabis in the same headline would negatively affect their image or enrollment stats, which by the way, is the direct opposite.” 

Finally, Nelsonville’s Hocking College said ‘yes.’ The two-year community college is awaiting the state’s decision to award an operating license after submitting an application earlier this year.

Central State University of Wilburforce, a historically African-American university, was the second state college to apply, and Cachat gives both a 95 percent chance for approval.

If successful, he says Hocking College will probably invest $3 million initially for a building, testing equipment and the employees necessary to get the operation up and running.

While Cachat was knocking on the doors of university presidents, the state decided to amend the law and allow private labs to also apply for an application so to test during the first year of the application.

Nevertheless, Cachat said Hocking College is poised to help the medical marijuana industry potentially thrive in Southeast and Appalachian Ohio.

A paradox facing medical marijuana is the federal government’s Schedule 2 posture that threatens DEA raids and lost funding, pitted against a state government’s belief it can significantly reduce, for example, the number of seizures suffered by epileptic children.

Why research medical marijuana but at the same time be against testing medical marijuana?

“You have to realize academic administrators and executives are very risk adverse,” says Cachat. “But it’s a perceived risk that has never been actualized in any state.”

Updated 6/11/18

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