The coronavirus pandemic has wreaked havoc on the state’s economy, but those in the medical marijuana industry say the virus legitimized the fledgling program in Ohio.
The medical marijuana program, which is run by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy and the Commerce Department, was fully functional in April 2019. Sales have significantly increased over the past year.
In May of last year, about $2.2 million and about 300 pounds of medical marijuana product was sold in the state of product has been sold, according to data from the Ohio Department of Commerce.
Medical marijuana sales in Ohio then jumped from $7.7 million this past February to $12.9 million in March — more than 1,500 pounds, according to the Ohio Department of Commerce. About $10.9 million of medical marijuana product was sold in April.
As of June 14, the most recent data available, a total of $133.9 million and 16,225 pounds of medical marijuana product has been sold since the program started.
The state has collected about $3.8 million in sales tax on the medical marijuana program from July 2019 to March 2020, according to the Ohio Department of Taxation. The state of Ohio’s fiscal year runs from July 1 to June 30.
Permissive sales tax collected statewide in that time was $942,673 , the Department of Taxation said. Permissive sales tax is collected by local entities, like the county and regional transit authority. The state wouldn’t release county-by-county sales tax data.
Larry Pegram is the president of Pure Ohio Wellness.
Pure Ohio Wellness has a dispensary at 1875 Needmore Road in Dayton and 1711 W. Main St. in Springfield. Pegram said the company plans to open a dispensary in Logan, Ohio, in the next couple of weeks.
Dispensaries were deemed essential during the statewide coronavirus shut down issued in March and lasting through May. That was huge for the medical marijuana industry, Pegram said.
“That legitimized the whole program,” Pegram said. “This has become more acceptable, people are now seeing it more as an alternative medicine.”
Medical marijuana sales have increased every month the dispensaries have been open, Pegram said. There are now 51 dispensaries operating in Ohio. Six more dispensaries have provisional licenses and are working toward opening in the state.
When the pandemic first started, Pegram said people rushed to get product. But when dispensaries were deemed essential, sales settled down a bit.
“It was scary at first, I think for everyone,” Pegram said. “But we realized we needed to stay open for our patients. For some of them, we are their lifeline.”
Jimmy Gould, owner and chairman of CannAscend Ohio and Strawberry Fields dispensaries in Ohio, said he believes sales went up when the pandemic started. Strawberry Fields has dispensaries in Dayton, Monroe, Marietta and Logan.
Patients might have been worried, Gould said, so they stocked up on medical marijuana product. Or, because people were stuck inside, they may have been in more pain or stress and needed the product.
“What’s come front and center is how vital this industry really is and how many people are suffering,” he said.
The essential business declaration during the pandemic was a critical and monumental step for the industry, Gould said.
“Gov. DeWine rose to the occasion and the Pharmacy Board allowed us to think outside of the box,” Gould said. “Ohio looked out for its patients during this pandemic.”
More than 109,000 Ohioans are registered medical marijuana patients as of May 31, the most recent data available. In May of last year, 35,162 Ohioans were registered patients.
About 7% of those patients are veterans. More than 600 of Ohio’s medical marijuana patients have been diagnosed with a terminal illness.
Many Pure Ohio Wellness patients are seniors who use medical marijuana for pain management, Pegram said.
Licensed dispensaries reported about 81,200 unique patients who purchased medical marijuana as of May 31, according to the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System. In May 2019, about 20,000 unique patients purchased medical marijuana.
Ohioans can get a doctor’s order to use medical marijuana if they have one of the qualifying conditions, including chronic pain, Alzheimer’s, cancer, epilepsy, fibromyalgia or HIV/AIDS.
Gould said he believes the Ohio Medical Board should add anxiety, autism and opioid withdrawl to the approved list of conditions.
“Any conditions should be between the patient and their doctor,” Gould said. “I don’t think we should be turning conditions down. This is an alternative medicine that can make people feel better. It’s not addictive.”
Smoking the flower of the plant is prohibited by the law passed in 2016. Medical cannabis can be vaped and used in edibles and oils by patients for 21 approved conditions.
As of June 10, the most recent state data available, nearly 650 doctors in Ohio can prescribe medical marijuana.
The Ohio Board of Pharmacy has adopted several policies to best serve patients during the coronavirus pandemic, spokeswoman Ali Simon said.
During the stay-at-home orders, licensed medical marijuana dispensaries were considered a health care and public health operation and remained open.
Dispensaries were allowed to offer curb-side pickup, but not allowed to deliver product to patients’ homes or another off-site location.
The Ohio Board of Pharmacy now also permits a patient or caregiver to telephone a medical marijuana dispensary or place an online order, Simon said. According to the pharmacy board, all transactions must take place during the dispensary’s hours of operation and under video surveillance. Dispensaries are not permitted to “cold-call” or initiate the medical marijuana sale.
Additionally, Simon said the board has issued guidance for caregiver registration that authorizes a medical marijuana patient to have up to three caregivers.
In a pre-coronavirus world, medical marijuana patients were only permitted to have one caregiver. These changes are meant to expedite the caregiver registration process and reduce exposure to higher risk patients during the coronavirus outbreak, Simon said.
Strawberry Fields now offers curbside pick up and order by phone, and Pure Ohio Wellness started curbside pick up and recently launched online ordering.
“We would all be better off if the coronavirus never happened, but I think that it helped accelerate some program changes, like telehealth and online ordering, that probably would have happened anyway,” Pegram said.
The Board of Pharmacy will monitor and review the waivers that have been issued, Simon said, and discuss which could be made permanent. But at this time, nothing has been decided on if these changes will remain when the pandemic is over.
“The industry still has some growth to do,” said Gould.
The state has taken action on a handful of complaints against medical marijuana dispensaries, according to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy website. None of these were in the Miami Valley.
No criminal charges stemmed from the complaints on the board’s website, which showed settlement agreements for the complaints where action was taken. Complaints looked into whether or not the business violated rules around ownership or control over a dispensary.
All active complaints and investigations are confidential, Simon said.
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