By Brian Skinner, Esq.
Marijuana Business Daily (MBD) reports that a study, conducted by Ohio State University Moritz College of Law’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center, found that more than 60% of Ohio residents are dissatisfied with the state’s medical cannabis program, citing high prices as the number one reason. However, the study also showed that perceptions of the medical marijuana program’s effectiveness have improved some from a year ago.
Medical marijuana became legal in Ohio on September 8, 2016 when House Bill 523 (HB 523) became effective. The bill created the framework for the Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program (OMMCP), and the program was to be “fully operational” within two years. But the study notes that as of July 15th, 2020, the OMMCP was still not fully operational, creating concerns around persistent delays and the overall functionality of the program.
Findings from the Ohio State University study include:
- 61.6% of the respondents said they were somewhat or extremely dissatisfied. (That’s an improvement from 67% last year).
- 86.1% of surveyed Ohioans reported a qualifying condition under the medical marijuana program. The majority of respondents with a qualifying condition reported that they had chronic, severe, or intractable pain, which is consistent with OMMCP figures.
- 51.5% of respondents with a qualifying condition reported that they currently use marijuana. When asked what is preventing them from using marijuana, the two top reasons cited were the cost of marijuana and a fear of losing employment.
- 84.2% of respondents indicated preference for purchasing marijuana from a legal dispensary if marijuana was made fully legal and product was similarly priced to the unregulated market. Of that 84.2%, 40.5% were willing to pay “somewhat more” than the price from an unregulated supplier.
- 52.8% of people who reported a qualifying condition and to be currently using marijuana have received a doctor’s recommendation under the OMMCP. In 2019, 45% of people with a qualifying condition reported having a recommendation from a physician.
- 61.6% of respondents reported being “extremely” or “somewhat dissatisfied” with the Ohio medical marijuana program, and 27.8% of people reporting being “extremely” or “somewhat satisfied”. This compares to 67% and 16.7% in 2019 respectively. The degree of dissatisfaction lessened significantly, with only 30.2% of respondents indicating extreme dissatisfaction with OMMCP as compared to 48% in 2019.
MBD reports that some Ohio medical marijuana companies recently complained that the market is being constrained and called for more dispensaries and permission to expand cultivation facilities. They noted that Ohio lags far behind Pennsylvania in the development of its program.
Many of Ohio’s medical marijuana card holders say they find prices cheaper in Michigan and are traveling north to purchase less expensive products after that state launched adult-use sales in December 2019.
Marijuana Business Factbook projected that Ohio medical marijuana sales would reach $175 million-$225 million this year. By comparison, Pennsylvania medical marijuana sales are expected to hit $400 million-$500 million.
West Virginia's medical cannabis program is still in the process of approving applications for growers, processor and dispensaries. So, it remains to be seen whether the West Virginia program will suffer from similar problems.
The West Virginia Medical Cannabis Act mandates that the Office of Medical Cannabis (OMC) and the Department of Revenue monitor the price of medical cannabis sold by growers, processors and by dispensaries, including a per-dose price, and if prices are determined to be unreasonable or excessive, the OMC may implement a cap on the price of medical cannabis being sold for a period of six months.
One factor that may be in West Virginia's favor is that unlike Ohio, West Virginia does not border any states that have legalized adult-use sales of marijuana. However, the state may quickly lose this advantage given that West Virginia has one of the slowest-launching programs in the cannabis industry and residents will have to wait at least another year before beginning sales. Recently, Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf called on state lawmakers to join a growing list of state legislatures and legalize a commercial recreational marijuana program during the fall legislative session.
Brian is the former counsel to the West Virginia House of Delegates Judiciary Committee and counsel to the West Virginia Senate Minority Caucus. He was also general counsel to the West Virginia State Health Officer and Commissioner for the Bureau for Public Health and he assisted in establishing the Office of Medical Cannabis. He has almost two-decades of experience as a strategic advisor and chief legal counsel to both executive and legislative branch public officials.