COLUMBUS – Ohio’s first legal medical marijuana crop is being harvested this week, but it could be several months before any will be in the hands of patients.
Agri-Med Ohio LLC in Meigs County is in the middle of its first harvest. Wellspring Fields in Ravenna completed its harvest earlier this week. Both are smaller, “level II” medical marijuana cultivators.
Flowers from Ohio’s first mature plants will be dried and ready for sale in early November. But when that marijuana is sold depends on when the first testing lab and dispensaries open.
As of today, none of the five state-licensed testing labs are operating and none of the 56 licensed dispensaries have opened their doors. No patients have been registered for the program, but the Ohio Board of Pharmacy says the patient and caregiver registry can be turned on as soon as Ohio’s market nears operation.
The state’s first testing lab could open at Hocking Technical College in early November, and dispensaries could be ready in December, state regulators told the Ohio Medical Marijuana Advisory Board on Thursday.
Ohio is among 31 states, along with the District of Columbia, that have legalized cannabis for medicinal use.
Ohio’s medical marijuana law was signed in 2016 but gave state regulators two years to set up the rules and regulations for the program. Ohio missed its self-imposed deadline to be “fully operational” by Sept. 8 because of several delays in the licensing process, lawsuits and construction delays.
Agri-Med Ohio is harvesting plants now, owner Todd McCay told The Enquirer on Thursday. During harvest, plants are cut down at the base, trimmed and hanged upside down to dry, McCay said. This is followed by a curing period lasting several weeks.
McCay said he’s talking with the five approved testing labs and dispensary owners to see where he might be able to take his product as soon as possible. Agri-Med plans to stagger its harvests a few weeks apart and is focusing on four to six strains of cannabis.
“We’re going to concentrate on the medical side of it, and I think patients are going to drive what strains we continue to grow,” McCay said.
McCay said the program has gotten a slow start but state regulators have been helpful and easy to work with.
During harvest, plants are cut down at the base, trimmed and hanged upside down to dry, McCay said. This is followed by a curing period lasting several weeks.
Wellspring Fields was the first cultivator to pass inspection and start growing plants in Ohio. Chief Operating Officer Claire Hobson said their first harvest was a little larger than a typical crop. Hobson expects a testing lab will be open when they reach that stage in a few weeks.
“The most important thing is getting the patients their medicine and that’s been our driving force the whole time,” Hobson said.
Patients with one of 21 qualifying medical conditions can buy and use medical marijuana if recommended to them by a physician certified by the Ohio State Medical Board. Ohio law does not allow marijuana to be smoked or grown at home. Flower and other plant material sold is allowed to be consumed with a vaporizer.
Mark Hamlin, senior policy advisor at the Ohio Department of Commerce, said it will be up to the various licensed businesses – cultivators, product processors, testing labs and dispensaries – to determine the program’s actual start date.
Whenever that is, product selection may be limited at first to dried buds. Processors that will make marijuana edibles, lotions, patches and other products weren’t licensed until August and have six months to set up their businesses.
And expect dispensaries to sell out quickly.
“The amount that’s going to be available is going to serve hundreds, not thousands,” Hamlin said.
Meanwhile, the Department of Commerce is in the process of revoking two of the 26 cultivation licenses issued because the companies failed to get up and running within nine months. The agency rejected extension requests from small-scale growers Mother Grows Best LLC in Canton and OhiGrow LLC in Toledo.
The companies can appeal the agency’s decision, and the department does not plan to immediately issue additional licenses to the next highest scoring applicants.