It’s Monday morning, ten minutes before Terrasana—Columbus’ first medical marijuana (MMJ) dispensary—is scheduled to open for its fourth week of business, and the waiting room is already crowded with patients. With a sleek interior design that’s more reminiscent of a boutique hotel lobby than a doctor’s office waiting room, it isn’t a bad place to sit, although the same sensation fills the air that is common to any medical waiting area: the feeling of uncertainty about when it will be your turn.
Of course, this uncertain waiting period could be said to extend all the way back to 1996, when California became the first state to legalize MMJ. People in Ohio with medical conditions that MMJ can alleviate watched and waited hopefully as it slowly became available in more states. Finally, 23 years after that fateful vote in California, Ohioans with qualifying conditions are beginning to have access.
And yet, as many in the industry will tell you, the wait in some sense continues. Not only for the people in the waiting room this morning, but also for those across the state who don’t yet have access to a nearby MMJ dispensary and/or an appropriate method of treatment. Two years elapsed between the passage of Ohio House Bill 523, which legalized MMJ in the state in 2016, and the scheduled opening of the first MMJ dispensaries in September of 2018. Even so, the initial deadline mandated in the bill was missed. Todd Yaross, the CEO of Terrasana Cannabis Company, said that as of April 2019, only 13 dispensaries had opened across Ohio, out of 56 that have been licensed to do so.
“We are working very hard with our cultivation partners to provide the lowest cost medicine that we possible can.”-Todd Yaross, CEO
Terrasana Cannabis Company
Many factors contributed to the delay in the rollout and the MMJ dispensaries opening. For Terrasana, Yaross cited construction issues, the permitting process, and old-fashioned weather delays as contributing to the holdup. Now that the program is active, demand for MMJ is outpacing supply, which by law must come from one of the state’s 24 licensed cultivation facilities. “Because we’re a retailer, we can’t at this point grow or manufacture any products. So we’re solely reliant on acquiring inventory from cultivators and processors,” he said.
Further, many patients in Ohio are waiting to have more options to consume MMJ. Because Ohio law prohibits consumption by smoking, dispensaries currently sell what Yaross calls “raw plant material” —the marijuana plant’s flower—that can be ground and vaporized. The advantage for growers is that minimal processing is required for this method; it offers the fastest path from cultivation to consumption.
But what’s most efficient for producers isn’t always the first choice of consumers. Yaross said that having other options to use MMJ, including tinctures (ingestible drops), oils, and edibles, would be preferable to many patients. Producers are just beginning to offer some of these, and MMJ should be more widely available in various formats in a few months. “Today looks different from a product selection [standpoint] than it will in 2 months or 6 months or a year,” Yaross said.
Compounding the current challenges for consumers is the cost of the product, which starts at $39 for a single-day supply. This is on top of the fees associated with obtaining an MMJ card, including a $50 fee to register for the program, and the consultation fee with a physician who has a license to prescribe MMJ. None of these costs are covered by health insurance plans.
“We are working very hard with our cultivation partners to provide the lowest cost medicine that we possible can,” Yaross said, adding that the cost is expected to come down as more product becomes available. In the meantime, if you’re interested in MMJ, you’ll either have to pay the high costs or wait a few months in the hopes that prices decrease as anticipated.
Despite the challenges with the rollout, the founders of Terrasana stand behind their product as a viable treatment option for the 21 approved conditions. Dr. Bill Kedia, another founding member of Terrasana and a physician practicing in the Cleveland area, said that he is glad to have MMJ available as an alternative to narcotics. He explained that data from states that have established MMJ programs, including Colorado, Washington, and Oregon, show a decrease in narcotic use.
Dr. Kedia has seen firsthand the downsides of prescription narcotics. “We’ve lost at least 15 patients to overdose over the years. This is an issue that is obviously very significant in Northeast Ohio,” he said. “In the data we have, there’s never been a death attributed to marijuana overdose ever.”
Should you go to one of Terrasana’s MMJ dispensaries (there’s another location open in Cleveland, with shops in Fremont and Springfield coming in the future), you can expect a personal conversation with a trained consultant to find the best treatment option for you. Each MMJ strain holds slightly different properties, and some may be better suited to addressing certain conditions than others. The staff are committed to helping clients find the right one.
While the rollout hasn’t been as smooth as many would have liked, the crowd in the waiting room this morning indicates that there are people across Ohio who are glad MMJ is here at last. Yaross said that in the program’s first four weeks, over 29,000 Ohioans had received MMJ cards, and MMJ dispensaries had made over 10,000 sales. With the availability of MMJ, Ohio has reached an important new threshold when it comes to treating some difficult medical conditions.
You might say it was worth the wait.