Despite a bevy of delays that has set Ohio’s medical marijuana program back — to the point where the product won’t be ready Sept. 8 as promised — state officials said Thursday that everything possible is being done to expedite the process.
As the Medical Marijuana Advisory Committee met in what was supposed to be one of the last gatherings before the program becomes operational, one thing was abundantly clear: There is no new timeline for when product will be available for patients.
The advisory committee serves as the mouthpiece for the various components of the state’s beleaguered medical marijuana program, from patient advocates to doctors, law enforcement and everything in between. Its role is to develop and submit recommendations in an effort to best advise the Board of Pharmacy, Medical Board and Department of Commerce — the three state agencies tasked with getting the program running.
Several committee members voiced their frustration not only with the delays, but with how they found out the program will not be fully operational by September, as state law mandates.
"As the public face of this program ... when there is something as big as ‘the program is not going to start Sept. 8,’ can we be notified that this is not going to be ready?" committee member Tony Coder Jr. asked representatives of the three agencies. His complaint was met with nods from the rest of the committee.
Mark Hamlin, senior policy adviser for the Department of Commerce, who confirmed Tuesday to The Dispatch that the deadline would not be met, apologized to the committee and to Coder for not notifying them first.
Even two years into the program there appears to be more questions than answers when it comes to setting up the complex new industry.
"Now is when we needed to have plants in the ground to have medical marijuana by Sept. 8," Hamlin said. Currently, only one cultivator has even been inspected, let alone having plants in the ground.
That inspection took place in May, but the cultivator had deficiencies and did not pass inspection, said Director of Compliance Mark Nye.
Nye’s team — made up of himself and two agents — is charged with completing inspections and awarding certificates of operation to cultivators before they can begin growing. Hamlin said they expect eight more inspections to take place by the end of July.
As for who is at fault for the delay, those involved say no single entity is to blame.
"Everybody is very disappointed with the delay. As the process to award certificates of operation has unfolded it has become clear that the timeline that was laid out was just a little bit too aggressive," said Thomas Rosenberger, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association of Ohio.
Though no one is pointing figures, it also appears no one knows exactly when Ohioans will be able to obtain medical marijuana, either.
Alex Thomas, spokesman for the Ohio Medical Marijuana License Holder Coalition, which represents a majority of the growers, said he does not anticipate "any lengthy delays."
Rosenberger said "the delay will be measured in weeks, maybe a couple of months."
Once the marijuana is grown, there are several things that must be in place to get the cannabis tested, processed and ready for sales to patients.
Testing labs are expected to be announced this month and up to 40 processors should be getting licenses sometime in July, Department of Commerce spokeswoman Stephanie Gostomski said.
The committee also discussed a report from accounting firm Ernst & Young that found the Department of Commerce had 10 scoring errors when awarding cultivator licenses in November.
The department already had acknowledged the errors and awarded an additional cultivator license to Illinois-based PharmaCann, which is slated to become Columbus' closest grow facility at Buckeye Lake.