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42,000 in Ohio can buy medical marijuana, half have done so

Canton Repository - 6/24/2019

More than 42,000 people can legally buy medical marijuana in Ohio with a doctor's recommendation, but only about half of them have, state records show.

When asked why they haven't bought any medicinal cannabis, patients cited a common reason: cost.

Marijuana is approved to treat 21 conditions in Ohio, including post-traumatic stress disorder and chronic pain. The drug was first approved for medical use in the state in 2016, but the first dispensary didn't open until March. Patients who want to use cannabis to treat those conditions acknowledged that prices have fallen, but said expense was still by far the biggest barrier.

Mary Alleger of suburban Columbus, who received a marijuana recommendation to treat chronic pain, said she researched prices on social media sites for medicinal cannabis users.

"The lowest price I saw for (a daily supply) was $28, and it took awhile before I saw anything for less than $29," she said. "That is not sustainable."

Those who have bought marijuana reported paying through the nose for it.

"It costs me over $1,000 a month to buy cannabis," said Anthony Cordle of the Far West Side, who refers to himself as a "high tolerance user."

Cordle uses cannabis to treat PTSD, and says he no longer experiences nightmares now that he's a regular user.

Only 18 of the 56 dispensaries that were granted provisional licenses have been approved to open, meaning many cannabis users must factor in travel costs to their overall expenses.

"There's one dispensary within about 50 miles that I can shop at," said Steve Concilla, who lives in Hilliard and uses marijuana to treat chronic pain.

That dispensary is Terrasana on Grandview Avenue on the West Side, and before it opened, Concilla said it was unrealistic for him to drive across the state to buy medicinal cannabis.

Industry insiders say market forces and the growing pains of a relatively new industry are to blame for high costs.

"There is still a relatively limited supply due to the still somewhat small number of cultivators, processors and dispensaries," said Alex Thomas, executive director of the Ohio Medical Marijuana License Holders Association.

Prices have dropped roughly 15 percent since the first dispensary opened, said Thomas Rosenberger, associate director for the Ohio Medical Cannabis Cultivators Association.

Both men said they expect costs to continue to fall as more dispensaries, cultivators and processors open.

Some patients privately admit they buy marijuana from illegal dealers or drive to dispensaries in Michigan, where they find vastly lower prices. Ohio and Michigan have discussed a reciprocity agreement that would let patients in the Buckeye State bring medicinal cannabis across state lines, but nothing has been finalized, and it's unclear how long the process will take.

Driving to that state up north for medical marijuana is cheaper for most Ohioans even after factoring in the price of gas, said Bob Bridges, a patient advocate who is on the state Medical Marijuana Advisory Board.

Patients also expressed other concerns, including the quality of the marijuana plants used to make dispensary products.

Cordle said he found seeds in his medical cannabis, which he said indicates a lower-quality product, and he worries that cultivators aren't using the best parts of the plant.

"It's not like us patients can return it or complain to the (cultivator) about it," he said.

The industry has many safeguards in place to ensure that patients are buying the best product, Rosenberger said.

"There was a competitive application process, and through that process the state picked the best operators," he said.

Cultivators have state-of-the-art facilities, Rosenberger added. "They control every input into the plant, from the amount of light it's getting to the amount of nutrients it gets."

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