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Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program changes rules for buying marijuana during COVID outbreak for patients

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Posted at 6:33 AM, Apr 23, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-23 18:50:18-04

CLEVELAND — Ohio’s highly-regulated Medical Marijuana Control Program is changing some of the rules around how dispensaries operate to make it easier for patients to get their medical marijuana.

The big changes are:

  • Orders are now allowed to be placed over the phone
  • Medical marijuana can now be picked up and paid for outside the dispensary
  • Rules around Ohio’s 90-day limit have been split into two 45-day purchasing windows.

You can read guidance on the changes here.

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RISE Dispensaries post new rules on the outside window during COVID outbreak social distancing.

The Ohio Board of Pharmacy tells News 5 the purchasing change is “intended to provide a simpler way for patients, caregivers, and dispensaries to calculate days’ supply while ensuring patients do not exceed the maximum 90-day possession limit established in law.”

Before the change, patients were allowed a 90-day supply of medical marijuana but they could lose access to part of that supply if they didn’t buy it intake.

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Patients are usually only allowed to purchase medical marijuana inside dispensaries. Now, patients are allowed to conduct those transactions from their cars.

“It was a very complicated system to understand and caused a lot of anxiety for both parties involved,” said medical marijuana patient Michael Robbins.

“That rule really encouraged multiple trips to the dispensary,” said medical marijuana attorney and Frantz Ward LLP Partner Tom Haren.

The new rule creates two 45-day periods where patients can purchase their entire 45-day supply at any point during that period.

“So it’s no longer an issue of, ‘If I don’t go right away, I will lose part of my supply,” said Haren.

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Changes to purchasing rules are only in place while there is a national emergency.

The changes create a much different way of operating for dispensaries, which are incredibly secure buildings with multiple locked doors, security cameras and ID checks before patients are allowed into the part of the dispensaries where medical marijuana is kept.

“So it’s no longer an issue of, ‘If I don’t go right away, I will lose part of my supply,” said Haren.

Coronavirus social distancing threatened to make it much harder for patients like Robbins to get the treatment they say helps their conditions.

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Cultivator employees prepare raw flower to be sold in Ohio's medical marijuana dispensaries.

When patient Kathy Malicoat tried curbside pick up, she like it.

“[Dispensary workers] have masks and gloves on and confirm who you are,” said Malicoat. “You need your drivers’ license and your medical marijuana card.”

It’s especially important because many medical marijuana patients would be considered high-risk if they were to catch the coronavirus because of their often-severe existing medical conditions.

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Dispensaries have to take extra security measures to allow curbside pick up while it is temporarily allowed.

“Some of our patients truly shouldn’t be exposed to other people and should be isolated and in self-quarantine,” said Green Thumb Industries’ Brendan Blume. GTI owns the RISE Dispensary stores throughout greater Cleveland.

Bringing transactions outside the heavily secured dispensaries raises questions about how to keep that process secure.

“The people are walking out to our cars, back into the building, back out,” said Malicoat. “This is a cash-only business.”

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Changes to how patients' 90-day supply is calculated streamlines a complicated process that patients and industry professionals have complained about since Ohio's Medical Marijuana Program launched.

Many medical marijuana sales are done in case because of the difficultly getting traditional credit card companies or banks to work with the medical marijuana industry because of conflicting federal and state laws regarding marijuana.

GTI tells News 5 they have cashless payment options to reduce the amount of cash changing hands in outdoor sales. All dispensaries are required to have security personal specifically dedicated to watching outdoor sales to make sure everyone stays safe.

The Ohio Board of Pharmacy tells News 5 the phone ordering and outdoor sales and pick up are only temporary.

But Haren says now that patients and dispensaries are getting a chance to try these steps out, there may be pressure to keep them.

“It’s going to be interesting to see whether regulations ever go back to where they were before the pandemic,” said Haren.