Ohio’s medical marijuana industry had its best two months yet in March and April, which industry officials say is a a result of the new coronavirus and recent changes to the program.
Sales reached $12.9 million during four weeks in March and $14.2 million over four weeks in April, according to state reports. That’s a significant increase compared to $10.7 million in sales in February and $9.6 million over four weeks in January.
Dispensaries say early to mid-March sales spikes were driven by a desire to “stock up” amid the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Remember the run on toilet paper? Medical marijuana was in the same vein, and it was “essential” in Ohio’s public health orders.
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“Early to mid-March sales spikes were driven a little bit out of uncertainty in the sense of who’s going to be permitted? What’s going to remain on the shelves?” said Todd Yaross, founder and CEO of Terrasana Cannabis Co., which owns four Ohio dispensaries. “Not just in a cannabis sense but all essential items.”
Allison Ranieri, who treats PTSD with medical marijuana, said she bought more products than usual after the state closed schools and other businesses.
“I had an inherent fear of is this going to remain an essential business?” Ranieri said. “Fortunately, it was an essential business and that has been amazing for me.”
Sales dropped to pre-pandemic levels in the weeks following Gov. Mike DeWine’s stay-at-home order. They increased again in mid-April, after a policy change that made calculating a patient’s purchase limit easier.
Sales have steadily climbed since most of Ohio’s 58 dispensaries came online last summer. But patients and marijuana business operators complained about the complex way Ohio restricted marijuana purchases.
State law allows people to buy and possess up to a “90-day supply,” equivalent to 8 ounces of dried marijuana. But Ohio Board of Pharmacy rules made that amount “use it or lose it” and also reduced what patients could buy by what they had bought in the past 90 calendar days.
The result: Patients rarely bought 90 days worth of marijuana and many were unable to buy what they needed, when they needed it, even though they were far from reaching the 90-day limit.
On April 17, the board changed the calculation to two 45-day periods in which patients can buy a 45-day supply at any point. Dispensary owners said patients are still figuring out the new calculation and it’s too soon to tell whether that will lead to prolonged sales.
“Those kind of things have been overall positive for our patients,” Brian Wingfield, co-owner of Ohio Cannabis Co. in Coshocton, said. “Our patients are feeling less stressed by this.”
Wingfield said customers spent 26% more, on average, in May than they did in February.
Patients said there were other reasons they bought more in March and April: federal coronavirus stimulus checks, sales and promotions around the cannabis culture holiday of April 20 and a wider variety of products.
The average price for dried flower or bud dipped below $300 an ounce during March and April and has stayed there, an Enquirer analysis of state sales data found. To compare, the average price per ounce last month was $414.52 in Illinois’ medical program and $259.14 in Michigan’s.
Justin Hunt, CEO of Zanesville-based cultivator and processor Grow Ohio, said this spring’s sales are to be expected as the market expands and matures. Hunt said Grow Ohio has worked to provide consistency for patients as well as make new products.
Through the end of April, more than 101,427 patients have registered for Ohio’s program that began in December 2018. About 74% have made at least one purchase at an Ohio dispensary.