Drawing of two masks, one smiling, one frowning

As September begins, Ohio’s newly formed medical marijuana program continues to be plagued by various delays and failures. As a direct result, our state’s patients, who are in dire need of the treatment cannabis provides, will have to wait even longer for the legal relief they require.

The program was supposed to be up and running by September 8, but has seemingly hit every speed bump along the way. On July 31, Buckeye Relief in Eastlake planted the first legal seeds, a momentous day only made possible because the cultivating facility finally received its certificate of operation from the state four days before. The state’s department of commerce can only give up to 12 of these certifications before the September 8 deadline, with potentially more on the way. However, the late start with cultivation means the crops won’t be ready until November, and then they must be sent to a processor to be transformed into approved consumable products for patients. As of now, these approved products only include edibles, oils, patches and other non-smokable methods.

If this process for cultivation already sounds ridiculously arcane, it’s because it is. Buckeye Relief is one of only three growers in the state that has been given the go ahead to start planting, with five more supposedly being allowed to start soon.

Eventually, only 26 licensed growers will be allowed to operate in the entire state. In addition to this already restrictive situation, the state had as many as 104 applications for processing center licenses, which again are necessary for transforming the crops into consumable products, but only 13 have been approved so far -- and the state only intends on approving 40.

On top of all of this, only 222 doctors have been given the authority to prescribe the drug, which requires a certain amount of training, and even then, there are only 21 medical conditions for which the state allows the drug to be prescribed. Oh, and the patients who are seeking to use the drug? They were supposed to sign up via an online registry, but the Ohio Board of Pharmacy is now delaying that until the products are available later this year.

Bob Bridges, who sits on the state’s Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee as an advocate for patients, says the registry should be live now, because it would give growers and processors a better estimate of how many patients are looking to consume products. “The rationale for not opening up the patient registry is just dumb,” Bridges says. “We’re not going to give you a card because there’s no product on the shelf?”

Where does one even begin to unravel this bureaucratic incompetence? While more states continue to make marijuana legally available for medical uses in a much less restrictive manner, and others are even going fully legal for recreational purposes, Ohio has become the laughing stock of the national marijuana movement -- a joke that would be much funnier if so many sick people weren’t suffering.

Even Forbes has recognized the potential of the quickly growing multi-billion dollar marijuana business, and pointed out that it’s Ohio’s “requirements” that has kept licenses for processors from being granted. These requirements range from basic background checks to taxes, and Forbes has deemed the whole situation a “cluster of missed opportunities.”

While many of the failed applicants in the various realms of Ohio’s faulty medical marijuana program (and there are many) have chances to re-apply later on down the line, it’s no mystery as to why some of the cannabis entrepreneurs here in the Buckeye State are even contemplating legal action. However, going to court could prove expensive -- even more expensive than the already outrageous application fee of $10,000 and consequential operating fee of $90,000 for just getting into the business in Ohio.

By the way, both of those fees need to be renewed every year for $100,000, which Forbes says should at least be waived for the first year so the companies can make up their losses. This is already a better idea than anything the state has come up with so far.

This is either a full-on tragedy or a huge comedy of errors. Ohio’s required medical conditions don’t even follow federal standards, according to Bridges. The federal government has recognized up to 150 qualifying medical conditions for which cannabis can be at least researched, and those scientific studies have since found that marijuana can be used to treat up to 400 various medical conditions. The fact that Ohio’s program only recognizes 21 is “quite laughable,” says Bridges.

At the end of the day, with so many different people understanding the various benefits of unrestricted medical marijuana utilization -- from patients to scientists to journalists -- it’s high time that Ohio’s state officials do the same.

Appears in Issue: