Medical marijuana: Ohio lawmakers eye changes to regulation of dispensaries

COLUMBUS, Ohio – Ohio lawmakers may strip the Ohio Board of Pharmacy of its regulatory role over medical marijuana dispensaries, instead giving oversight to the Ohio Department of Commerce.

Regulatory responsibilities currently under the Board of Pharmacy that would be transferred to the Department of Commerce include patient and caregiver registration, criminal background checks of dispensary employees, maintenance of a toll-free line for responding to inquires about the medical marijuana program and selecting which businesses receive dispensary licenses.

The move comes at the request of Gov. Mike DeWine, in his budget recommendations for the legislature, which are now under consideration in the Ohio House.

“This proposal is a consolidation for efficiency, as a significant portion of staff support and expertise in this field is at the Department of Commerce currently,” said Dan Tierney, DeWine’s spokesman.

Ohio’s medical cannabis program currently has three regulators: The Department of Commerce, the Board of Pharmacy and the State Medical Board of Ohio.

The Department of Commerce is responsible for the licensing and regulation of marijuana growers, processors – who take the plant and extract its oils and chemicals to create products, such as edibles and tinctures – and testing labs that look for THC levels and pesticides.

The Board of Pharmacy has been responsible for the licensing and regulation of dispensaries since the legislature legalized medical marijuana in 2016, and the first dispensaries opened in January 2019.

DeWine’s budget proposal does not change the Medical Board’s responsibilities in the program, which includes reviewing and sometimes adding new illnesses to the list of approved conditions for which medical marijuana can be prescribed and overseeing the program in which physicians get permission to recommend medical marijuana to patients.

Matt Close, executive director of the Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association, said that state marijuana businesses look forward to the change.

“We are all for the transfer to the department,” he said. “It’s a pretty convoluted scheme that we have to deal with right now. We’re not looking for less regulation. We’re looking for streamlined regulation that makes sense.”

State Rep. Jay Edwards, a Nelsonville Republican who is the Ohio House Finance Committee chair, said he expects the governor’s request to end up in the budget that his committee passes. He said he met with a top official from the Board of Pharmacy, who didn’t object to the change.

“I would expect there would be no change from the governor’s budget,” he said.

A separate proposal before the General Assembly also seeks to change the medical marijuana regulatory scheme. Senate Bill 9 would create a Division of Marijuana Control under the Ohio Department of Commerce and remove the Board of Pharmacy’s responsibilities over medical marijuana. The division would answer to a 13-member Medical Marijuana Oversight Commission.

That bill is under consideration in a Senate committee.

Laura Hancock covers state government and politics for The Plain Dealer and

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