Ohio Begins Registering Medical Marijuana Patients

Ohio’s online portal through which patients may register through their doctors to use medical marijuana quietly went live Monday, and state officials said medicinal pot products should be available for patient use within 60 days.

The state Board of Pharmacy sent notice to physicians as well as some patients and caregivers that the registration website is available. Only doctors who have been certified by the State Medical Board to recommend marijuana may access the website on behalf of patients they determined do qualify under Ohio’s fledgling medical marijuana program.

But that doesn’t mean that marijuana products are legally available for purchase yet in Ohio, four months after the program was originally supposed to be fully operational. The flipping of the switch on the registry is a reflection that the pharmacy board believes product will, however, be available for purchase at licensed dispensaries within 60 days.

“We maintained that we will start registration no earlier than 60 days before product would be available,” said board spokesman Grant Miller. “We have spoken with the industry, and this falls in line with that timeline. It gives people enough time to become registered.”

Although physicians would access the registry for patients, an annual fee of $50 will be assessed for patients and $25 for caregivers.

After receiving a recommendation from their physicians, patients could then access the registry and print out a registration card or save it on their mobile devices to show to licensed dispensaries.

The board waited to start the registry in part because of the “affirmative defense” included in the 2016 law that legalized marijuana for medical use only.

Although it has been inconsistently applied, the law generally allows someone picked up for possessing or using medical marijuana while product is not available in Ohio to argue before a judge they otherwise qualify under Ohio’s law.

It’s up to the judge whether to accept the argument and look the other way if the patient displays a physician’s recommendation and is using cannabis in a form allowed under the law.

That affirmative defense is set to expire 60 days after the state begins registering patients.

“The affirmative defense has always been there,” Mr. Miller said. “We didn’t want a situation where we were registering people and 60 days later when the affirmative defense expires there still were no dispensaries open with product.”

When added to Ohio’s medical marijuana law, the law’s authors suggested it could allow those in need of medical marijuana before product was available here to get it from another state, such as Michigan. But there have been cases of people being charged for possession despite the defense.

“We have literally thousands of patients who are ready to be enrolled,” said Connor Shore, president of Ohio Marijuana Card, a private business with state-certified doctors specializing in recommending medical marijuana.

“Our team will be working diligently to ensure our patients are among the first people registered with the program,” he said. “These are people who need marijuana, not to get high, but because it is medicine for them. We have cancer patients, veterans and pain patients who are really suffering, so this day is very exciting for them.”

While a handful of licensed cultivators are growing marijuana with a limited amount of product expected to be available soon, it remains to be seen when a reliable supply will be produced to allow retail dispensaries to open their doors and keep them open.

House Bill 523, the 2016 law legalizing medical marijuana only, allows for use in oils, tinctures, patches, edibles, and plant matter. The law prohibits smoking, but it does provide for vaping.

The law also assumes that, particularly once the affirmative defense expires, all of those products will be purchased at licensed dispensaries. It forbids home-growing of marijuana.

Until the opening of the registry on Monday, no legal registration card has been available in Ohio, although some doctors were issuing recommendations before they were officially certified to do so by the state.

The board’s hotline for answering questions about the registry is 1-833-464-6627.

Michigan meanwhile became the first state in the Midwest where voters opted to legalize and tax pot for recreational use in addition to the medical use that has been in place for several years. It allows adults 21 and older to possess, use, or transport up to 2.5 ounces; possess up to 10 ounces at home, and grow up to 12 plants for personal use.

State government still has to write the rules for how the program would operate, a process that could take two years.

Source: The Blade
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