But most of those patients have yet to buy marijuana at one of the state’s licensed dispensaries.
Of the nearly 20,000 patients who signed up in the first three months of Ohio’s registry, only 28 percent made a purchase during that time, according to the Ohio State Board of Pharmacy, which oversees the patient registry and dispensary parts of the program.
On average, patients bought 6 tenths of an ounce during that time. That’s not a lot. The pharmacy board considers a tenth a «whole day unit.»
Ohio dispensaries have sold more than $2.47 million worth of marijuana since Jan. 16. But sales have declined over the last two weeks straight even as more dispensaries come online.
Ohioans waited a long time for the opportunity to buy legal marijuana here – why aren’t they rushing to buy it?
Prices are too high
Several medical marijuana patients told The Enquirer the prices are just too high.
The average price has hovered around $470 per ounce in Ohio. That’s more than double the median price in Michigan, where patients from Ohio and other states can use their cards.
And they’re not expected to drop too much any time soon. Neighboring Pennsylvania, whose program resembles Ohio’s, began sales about 13 months ago. The average price there is $480 per ounce, according to analysis by trade publication Marijuana Business Daily.
More mature markets such as Massachusetts and Illinois have lower average prices, $350 and $375 an ounce, respectively.
There are several reasons why Ohio’s prices are high. Among them:
- There are few cultivators selling product to a few dispensaries
- Ohio has some of the highest license fees in the country and companies have spent millions of dollars on state-of-the-art facilities.
- Ohio has more restrictive rules for testing and packaging marijuana.
Dispensaries are far away
Nine of the state’s 56 licensed retail dispensaries have opened. All are in the eastern half of the state
The closest dispensary to Cincinnati is a two-hour drive away in Jackson – Buckeye Botanicals. Before that store opened, many Southwest Ohioans drove four hours to Wintersville, on the eastern edge of the state.
Lorrie Callahan, a Dayton-area patient who has multiple sclerosis, gets messages every day from fellow patients who are frustrated with the program’s slow rollout and lack of dispensaries in Southwest Ohio.
Callahan plans to make her first dispensary purchase Saturday at The Forest in Sandusky – a 5-and-one-half-hour drive, round trip. Driving for long periods of time is painful for Callahan; it gives her muscle spasms.
«Sunday and Monday I’m going to be absolutely nothing,» Callahan said.
After then? Callahan said she’ll probably wait to buy more medicine until a store opens in Dayton or Cincinnati.
Patients are also hesitant to travel far or spend big because of little problems others have experienced at dispensaries.
One big one: Ohio calculates its maximum supply differently than most other states. Patients are limited to a 90-day supply of marijuana, based on THC content of the product.
But that’s not calculated on a rolling basis. Instead, the 90-day clock starts when the physician registers the patient in the program. If someone waits 30 days for his first visit to a dispensary, he will only be able to purchase 60 days worth of marijuana instead of 90.
The pharmacy board set that rule to prevent patients from breaking the law for how much medical marijuana they can possess, agency spokeswoman Ali Simon said.
«It sets the system up so the patient never could have more than 90 days at a time,» Simon said.
Ohio’s limit disadvantages patients who can’t afford a 90-day supply – average price $3,760 – in one initial purchase or travel frequently to a dispensary, patients told The Enquirer.
Bill Schmitt Jr., an Ohio patient who lives in Bellaire, was surprised to learn he could only buy two day’s worth of marijuana after buying only eight individually packaged «whole day units» a few weeks earlier. In addition to the «use it or lose» it calculation, the state’s system rounds up the units so when someone buys three daily units, they’re marked in the system as buying four days worth.
And dispensaries say another Ohio rule prevents them from listing their inventory, known as a menu, on popular websites such as Weedmaps. Schmitt said he can pull up the site on his phone and easily find out what’s in stock at most Michigan dispensaries.
“I can find the exact medication I need before I go there, before I waste any gas, before I waste any time,” Schmitt said.
Limited product selection
The only medical marijuana available is the dried flower form. Marijuana bud is typically smoked, but Ohio law only allows vaporizing plant material.
Oils, tinctures, lotions, patches and marijuana-infused foods – which are preferred by many patients – are not yet on dispensary shelves.
Dr. Timothy Thress, a Cincinnati doctor who sees patients through Ohio Medical Card, said some patients, such as those with heart conditions, shouldn’t be vaping their medicine.
«A lot of people aren’t getting their cards yet because they don’t want to pay money and not use it,» Thress said.
While many patients still rely on black market products or travel to Michigan and other states, those are not options for many patients.
L.A., a Southwest Ohio woman who asked not to be named, has a rare disease and can’t risk her marijuana being contaminated. All Ohio medical marijuana is tested for safety and purity and labeled with the amounts of cannabinoids, the active compounds in marijuana, each contains. She also can’t vape because of her asthma and cannot travel by car for long periods of time.
«I can’t use my (medical marijuana) card,» she said. «It’s been a lot of money that basically went down the tubes.»
Marijuana-infused products are expected on dispensary shelves next month.
Grow Ohio Pharmaceuticals became the first of 39 state-licensed processors to get approval to open. The company also operates a large grow site at its Zanesville-area location and will use all its harvested flower to make marijuana-infused products, said executive vice president Justin Hunt.
Hunt said he hopes to have oils and tinctures available later this month and next month produce marijuana-infused gummy candy.
Standard Wellness in Gibsonburg, in the Northwestern corner of the state, was the second processor to get approval. It plans to have oils, tinctures, edibles and topicals in dispensaries next month.