Indoor cannabis plants being grown in a licensed Washington state marijuana production facility.

Rory Savatgy

Patients in Ohio are unlikely to have access to medical marijuana until 2018, despite the law taking effect on Sept. 8, according to a Columbus Dispatch report. Policy makers still have to draft rules for the program, adopt policies, and implement a plan for certification and licensing – under the law those rules, which have to be approved by two oversight agencies, don’t have to be completed until next year.

Robert Giacalone, a medical board member, suggests that the board “is in no way prohibiting the recommendation of medical marijuana now that HB523 is effective” but a provision of the law bars doctors from recommending medical marijuana until the rules are written and products are cultivated and sold in the state.

“If any physician wishes to recommend medical marijuana before the rules are in place, we strongly recommend that they contact a private attorney,” he said in the report.

The Ohio Patient Network’s Rob Ryan said there is “no doubt” people with approved qualifying conditions should be able to access medical marijuana in the state, but that anyone seeking to do so should be “very careful going out of state to do so.” He said that until the state program is in place, patients could obtain cannabis “from a family member or friend, or a dealer as a last resort,” noting that patients could opt to grow their own medicine.  

Patients could travel to a neighboring state that allows out-of-state cardholders to purchase the drug at dispensaries, such as Michigan, but they would be running the risk of being charged with trafficking for carrying cannabis across state lines. Those charged could assert an “affirmative defense” until medical marijuana is available in Ohio, but it would be up to a judge to accept it.

According to Dan Tierney, spokesman for Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office, it would be “very difficult” to legally obtain medical marijuana until the infrastructure is in place.

“Everybody knows there’s significant lead time built into this statute,” he said. “We don’t have the specific rules in place at the medical board or the pharmacy board.”

Even after the program is set up, it might still prove difficult for patients in more than 40 cities who have passed moratoriums on the cannabis industry, and for patients in Hamilton and Butler Counties, which have passed permanent bans.

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