By Omar Sacirbey
Pennsylvania and Ohio legalized medical marijuana within weeks of one another over the spring, but their programs are advancing at different speeds.
Officials in Pennsylvania unveiled wide-ranging draft regulations last week governing the state’s new MMJ program, while neighboring Ohio is still a long way from that milestone.
Ohio’s government leaders must still establish an advisory board that will help pen regulations, and final rules for all licensed cannabis businesses might not materialize until early September of 2017.
Medical marijuana entrepreneurs in the state will remain in limbo until that point, while their peers in Pennsylvania already have a good look at how the regulatory landscape might develop.
Still, Ohio government leaders and regulators – while proceeding more slowly – don’t appear to be dragging their feet. They face a different legal timetable and want to avoid a rush job.
State Rep. John Boccieri just this week told a local TV station that officials with the Ohio Department of Commerce are trying to figure out “how they ethically and legally can administer this through dispensaries.”
Moreover, industry officials who keep tabs on Ohio see encouraging signs for what is likely to become one of the nation’s largest MMJ programs.
“From conversations that I’ve had, it would appear that there’s a lot of legwork going into implementing this thing as quickly as possible,” said Andy Joseph, president of Apeks Supercritical, an extraction machine manufacturer in Johnstown, Ohio.
Release of Funds
Indeed, earlier this month, a bipartisan Ohio budget panel agreed unanimously to release some $1.8 million to state regulators to hire and train employees for the program.
Tom Haren, an attorney helping businesses prepare to enter the state’s MMJ industry, noted that cultivation regulations – including how many licenses will be awarded – must be finalized by May 2017 under the state’s MMJ law. Rules for dispensaries and other businesses, including the amount of licenses that will be awarded, need to be finalized by September 2017.
“All things considered I think that’s a pretty good time frame,” Haren said.
Haren also pointed to Gov. John Kasich. The state’s Republican chief executive has recently made public statements in support of medical cannabis, suggesting his administration won’t get in the way of the new law.
“He’s shown he’ll cross the aisle on issues that are not Republican priorities,” Haren said. “He could have easily said I’m not going to sign this, but he signed it.”
Kasich signed Ohio’s MMJ program into law on June 8, less than two months after Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf did so for his state.
Ohio’s law officially takes effect Sept. 8. By early October, Kasich and government leaders must select a 14-member advisory committee that will help write the regulations.
Ohio’s medical cannabis industry could eventually generate between $200 million and $400 million in annual retail sales via dispensaries once the market matures, according to preliminary estimates by Marijuana Business Daily.
The state has an extensive qualifying conditions list, including chronic, severe and intractable pain. In other states that allow patients to obtain marijuana for pain, typically anywhere from 1%-2% of the population signs up for the medical cannabis program.
Pennsylvania Regulators Act
Pennsylvania, meanwhile, clearly is on a different schedule.
State regulators there drew industry kudos last week for quickly issuing detailed draft regulations for the state’s MMJ program.
Michael Bronstein, the Philadelphia-based co-founder of the American Trade Association for Cannabis and Hemp, credits Gov. Wolf, a Democrat, for Pennsylvania’s decision to hit the ground running.
“We have an administration in Pennsylvania that is completely behind this law. They consider it important,” Bronstein said.
He also credited Pennsylvania regulators. “It’s clear the Department of Health has spent a lot of time examining regulations from other states,” he said.
Cannabis industry representatives inside and outside Ohio acknowledge Pennsylvania’s swift release of the draft regulations. But they said Ohio isn’t too far behind.
“Pennsylvania was a little bit on the fast side, but I don’t think Ohio is behind at all. I think they’re where they should be,” said Kris Krane, managing partner of 4Front Advisors, a cannabis consulting firm in Boston that is involved in several states with legalized medical or recreational marijuana.
While some legalized marijuana states that neighbor each other compete or expect to compete for customers – like Washington and Oregon or Massachusetts and Vermont – Ohioans don’t view Pennsylvania as a competitor.
“The fact that Ohio is neighbors with Pennsylvania doesn’t have any bearing on,” said Joseph, the president of Apeks Supercritical. “I think the pressure is internal. Ninety percent of the state supports medical marijuana.”
Haren, the Ohio attorney, agreed.
“Ohio is going put together an Ohio system, and will do things that are going to be unique to Ohio,” he said. “A lot needs to happen, and it’s important that we get the rules that are written in a transparent manner.”
Omar Sacirbey can be reached at [email protected]