COLUMBUS – Yes, Ohio’s medical marijuana stores will remain open to the state’s 95,000 registered patients during the coronavirus pandemic.
But some of the program’s regulations have made it difficult for patients to stick to advice from Gov. Mike DeWine and health professionals that people limit trips outside the home.
And many medical marijuana patients are considered high-risk for complications associated with COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the virus.
Patients have conditions such as cancer and HIV/AIDS and may have weakened immune systems. In 2019, 29% of patients were age 60 or older.
Ohio health officials have said that food, medicine and banking services are considered essential and will remain open. The state considers medical marijuana a medicine, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy confirmed this week.
Mike Todd of Hamilton said he’s worried that frequent dispensary runs increase his exposure to the virus, putting at risk his wife, who has an autoimmune disorder.
“If I picked up something while waiting at the dispensary, I could bring it back here and she could die from it,” Todd said.
Difficulty stocking up
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends stocking up on enough medication to last 14 days.
Ohio restricts patient purchases to a 90-day supply, but patients are often limited to a certain number of days at a time because of the way the state calculates that amount. For example, if a patient waits until the 10th day of their medical marijuana recommendation to make a purchase, they can only buy 80 days worth of product. And whatever they’ve bought in the last 90 calendar days is subtracted from what they can buy.
For example, Todd said he couldn’t buy anything until Thursday. A purchase he made three months ago “dropped off” the 90-day clock and he could buy 11 days worth of product. That could last him up to two and a half weeks – if he stretches it out – but he might not have enough days in the bank then to buy much more.
The board, which regulates dispensaries and patient supply restrictions, does not plan to make changes to the 90-day supply at this time, spokesman Cameron McNamee said Thursday in an email.
“We have not ruled it out but we are looking into the data regarding the number of patients who are at their 90-day supply limit,” McNamee said.
No delivery or curbside pick-up yet
Unlike pharmacies, drive-thru and walk-up pick-up is not an option for medical marijuana purchases under Ohio’s rules and regulations.
Several other states, including Michigan on Monday, have allowed those services in light of the current crisis.
The Ohio Board of Pharmacy is working with dispensaries that want to offer parking lot orders.
“However, we are still requiring folks to enter the dispensary to complete their transactions because we are concerned about having cash transactions completed outdoors,” McNamee said in an email. “For delivery, we also have similar concerns.”
Measures to keep dispensaries clean
Several Ohio dispensaries have cut hours and canceled events with vendors in recent weeks. Dispensaries are required by law to notify patients of reduced hours through various means including phone messages and signs. If a dispensary decides to close for more than two days, it must notify the pharmacy board.
On Tuesday, the pharmacy board sent additional guidance to dispensaries:
- limit waiting rooms to no more than 10 people
- serve older adults and other at-risk patients first
- regularly clean and disenfect counters, ATMs, keypads and waiting areas every hour or after every 10 patients
- take employees’ temperatures once per shift and send them home if they have symptoms of a respiratory infection
On Thursday, the Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association sent a letter to the DeWine administration outlining steps its member businesses – mainly growers and product manufacturers – have taken to align with guidance from the CDC and state officials and offering to do more to help “flatten the curve.”
“This is health care and patients rely on this,” Matt Close, the association’s executive director, said Friday. “We’re happy to work with the administration and the legislature to maintain that constant service and hopefully make things better for people.”
Recommendations via video chat
Ohio allows patients with one of 21 qualifying medical conditions to buy and use medical marijuana if recommended to them by a state-certified physician.
State rules require an in-person doctor’s visit to obtain a recommendation and register or renew their registration for the program
The Ohio State Medical Board on Wednesday said it would not enforce that rule due to the pandemic. It was part of a broader rule expanding telehealth options to keep patients out of doctor’s offices and clinics to reduce spread of the virus and to conserve protective equipment such as masks that are in high-demand for treating COVID-19 patients.
Some doctors have already begun offering this option.
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