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Legal medical marijuana is finally coming to Ohio. If the CY+ Dispensary, operated by Cresco Labs, opens its doors as promised at 9:00 a.m. on January 16, 2019, the central Ohio village of Wintersville will have the distinction of being home to the first legal medical marijuana dispensary sales.

Shortly after the announcement that CY+ would open in Wintersville, population 3,727, an additional three dispensaries were approved to open: Ohio Valley Natural Relief, also in Wintersville; The Forest Sandusky, in Sandusky; and The Botanist in Canton.

The CY+ dispensary will carry nearly 30 strains from three Ohio growers: Buckeye Relief, Firelands Scientific, and Cresco Labs.

Flower for use with vaporizing is the only choice at this point because Ohio forbids smoking cannabis, and no processors have received a license to operate.

“The first sale and the start of the Ohio program are definitely a day of celebration for the thousands of patients that have already received their cards and can now legally get their medicine,” Cresco Labs' spokesperson, Jason Erkes, told Weedmaps News.

If all goes as planned, which has not been the case during 2018, the rest of the Buckeye State's medical marijuana dispensaries, a total of 56, should open their doors in the coming weeks and months of 2019. The Ohio medical marijuana program was established in September 2016 and rules for growers, processors, labs, and dispensaries followed within the year.

While nearly operational, Ohio's medical marijuana program is not uniformly functional, said Thomas Rosenberger, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association of Ohio.

What's the Holdup?

The many segments of the industry —  cultivators, processors, testing labs, and dispensaries — seem to be in a different phase of development, according to Rosenberger.

“Depending on where you are in the supply chain, that's when your dispensary will open,” Rosenberger told Weedmaps News. “The state took a very measured approach to licensing and there are still quite a few hiccups to work out.”

Kerry Francis, spokesperson for the Ohio Department of Commerce, said that her office has been working hard for “day one” but consumer safety comes first.

“Our two main goals are public health and safety. We test all products for potency and contaminants prior to sale and we need to ensure that all [medical marijuana] businesses adhere to strong security measures,” Francis told Weedmaps News.

There are five testing labs in the state, Francis said, but only two have licenses to operate.  

The same goes for processors. So far, 27 processors have earned state approval, out of a possible 40, but none has yet been licensed.

Finding a Doctor

Telephones at the Green Compassion Network and Ohio Marijuana Card are ringing off the hook, said a busy associate at the latter's call center.

For a fee of around $300, including the doctor's visit and consultation, the two companies help qualifying patients to obtain medical marijuana cards and connect them with one of the 340 Ohio physicians certified to recommend medical marijuana.

Currently, there are 21 qualifying conditions in Ohio's medical marijuana program. However, the Ohio Medical Board opened a two-month period from Nov. 1 to Dec. 31, 2018,  during which it accepted petitions to add to the list of conditions.

A single mother of two in Bryan, Ohio, wrote one of them.

Tiffany Cawile spent two months on a 33-page petition that included new research material, medical trial results, expert testimony, and seven letters of support.

Her petition was accepted by the medical board, which settled on six new conditions it will review and consider adding: general anxiety, depression, insomnia, chronic anxiety, autism, and opioid addiction.

Cawile's 5-year-old son, Jaxsyn, has autism.

“The FDA-approved treatment for my son, basically antidepressants and antipsychotics, deadens his spirit and has horrible side effects,” said Cawile, 28, director of the Ohio branch of Mothers Advocating Medical Marijuana for Autism (MAMMA).

“That's why I'm pushing for medicinal, whole-plant cannabis. There's no cure for autism but, as parents, we can treat the symptoms and give our children a halfway decent life,” Cawile told Weedmaps News.

It could take the medical board up to six months to decide which conditions will qualify to be added to the list.