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Ohio’s new medical marijuana dispensary license process has advocates watching

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Posted at 4:34 PM, Apr 20, 2021
and last updated 2021-04-21 09:35:43-04

ASHTABULA, Ohio  — Ohio is considering adding 73 new medical marijuana dispensaries to its exciting 57 approved dispensaries, potentially creating 130 across the state.

That’s welcome news for medical marijuana patient Laura DeAngelis, who travels 30 to 40 minutes to the nearest dispensary to her Ashtabula home in Painesville.

It’s a trek that’s worth the time and effort.

“I used to spend a lot of time in bed,” said DeAngelis, who has Fibromyalgia. “I would be bedridden and not able to move. Stiff joints, stiff muscles.”

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Laura uses edibles like these to treat her fibromyalgia.

The extreme pain goes away, according to DeAngelis, when she uses medical marijuana edibles and vape pens. But finding the same product at each visit is another barrier.

“Sometimes I have to switch brands, sometimes they don’t have the stuff that I usually use in stock,” said DeAngelis.

That’s not unusual in Ohio.

Many medical marijuana patients have said they have to travel pretty far and pay a lot of money for what is often a limited supply of products, meaning they have to purchase different brands and products.

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Medical marijuana patients wait for The Forest Sandusky to open in 2019.

Expanding the number of dispensaries from 57 to 130 in Ohio could help with travel distance, price, and supply, but industry experts are worried about how those licenses will be given out.

“Our concern is we have to keep the standards high,” said Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association (OMCIA) Executive Director Matt Close. “It has to be competitive.”

OMCIA represents about 50 Ohio Medical Marijuana License-holders, covering cultivators, processors, and dispensary businesses. Close says he thinks 73 new dispensaries are a good number to expand to and that the state’s attention to spending them out evenly across the state will also help.

The first 57 dispensary licenses that were awarded were given out by “Competitive Scoring,” meaning the application that was rated the highest got a license. The Board of Pharmacy is considering a lottery system for the next round of applications, saying it will help streamline the process and hopefully avoid lawsuits from applicants that missed out.

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Patients can get products like this raw flower but supply has been uneven since the program launched.

“These licenses are so valuable that you’re never going to stop litigation,” said Frantz Ward Partner Tom Haren, who represents companies in Ohio’s Medical Marijuana industry. “It’s happened in every state, every time that new license are awarded, no matter if it’s a competitive scoring state, a lottery, what have you.”

The litigation often begins over how an application has been scored, with applicants that don’t score high enough in a competitive scoring process appealing to get a score that earns them a license. In a competitive scoring process, extra licenses can be given out to address refined scores.

In a lottery system, Haren says litigation could be more complicated if an application is judged to not meet the minimum requirements before the lottery, but is adjusted later to be a score that would have qualified. A resolution in that instance would be much harder to find because re-drawing the lottery would inevitably mean that different applications are awarded licenses. Simply awarding an additional license would be unfair to the application in the original lottery.

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Bud tenders work on raw flower at a cultivation and processing facility in Ohio.

The Board of Pharmacy is still working through the details of the next application process, which could start over the summer. Until then, Close says, the rules of the new process are ambiguous for everyone.

“I think that the last thing that the administration wants and that the people of Ohio want to see if shorty dispensaries being put up because that’s not what we’re seeing right now,” said Close.

Lawmakers are in the process of making their own change to Ohio Medical Marijuana’s Control Program with House Bill 60, which would add Autism to the list of qualifying conditions for Medical Marijuana use. The bill is in committee but experts say they think it has a good chance to become law.

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