Medical marijuana will not be available for Ohio consumers by the Sept. 8 deadline that state law mandates, officials confirmed Tuesday.
The Dispatch reported last month that many in the industry have speculated as much, with cultivators growing increasingly wary that they would not be able to have the product ready in time.
Mark Hamlin, senior policy adviser for Ohio’s Department of Commerce, said no growers have planted cannabis yet and only one has been inspected with fewer than 100 days until product is supposed to be on the shelf.
"We knew all along that this was an aggressive timeline," Hamlin said in an interview.
With plants taking anywhere from eight to 16 weeks to grow — and none of the 25 provisional grow licensees given state approval to start growing — the state knew the September deadline was no longer realistic, he said.
However, with the state now acknowledging the timeline will not be met, Hamlin put the onus of the delay on the growers, not the state.
"We were reliant on those handful of cultivators and if they weren’t able to do what they needed to do to get their certificates of operation then we would be in a position where it wasn’t likely we would have product on the shelves in September."
Hamlin said once the Department of Commerce doled out cultivator licenses in November, it was up to the growers to get all of the necessary background and paperwork done to be ready on time.
"At that point the ball was handed off to the cultivators," Hamlin said. "It was really reliant on the cultivators being able to have plants in the ground by this time. We expected and we had heard (in April) from a handful of our cultivators that they thought they would be ready for inspection."
The Department of Commerce had planned to have more inspections done by now, but weather and construction issues delayed the cultivators, who received provisional licenses in November.
State law says the medical marijuana program had to be "fully operational" come September, but Hamlin said they are still in a position for that to be the case.
To Hamlin and Department of Commerce, "fully operational" simply means the program has to be ready with licenses given to all applicable parties.
"We will have the various licenses that are necessary to make up the regulatory framework in place by Sept. 8," Hamlin said. "The public expectation became that there would also be medical marijuana for purchase on Sept. 8. We understood that was the expectation, and we committed to doing everything that we could do to help facilitate that and make that happen."
Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 523 into law in June 2016, officially marking the start of the program in Ohio. The law said medical marijuana could be used by patients with 21 conditions — such as cancer or Parkinson’s disease — in the form of edibles, oils, patches and flower for vaporizing. Patients and their caregivers will be allowed to possess up to a 90-day supply. Smoking or home growing was not allowed under the law.
The development comes the day after the state awarded marijuana dispensing licenses to 56 sites, including five in Columbus.
"From the time that the bill passed, to stand up an industry in the state of Ohio where there was no experience and no roots for this industry to be operated legally...it was always an aggressive timeline."