Safer products, legal protections, job security cited as benefits, but complexity of program causing confusion among would-be patients

With all the excitement surrounding the passage of medical marijuana sales in Ohio, some residents who want to medicate legally with cannabis have struggled to get the proper information needed to apply for a medical card and obtain their medicine from one of the 15 dispensaries currently in operation. Obtuse laws have caused confusion among often very sick medical patients who are just trying to obtain legal and safe medical remedies to the conditions from which they suffer.

As of May 2019, 31,075 patients have successfully registered with the Ohio program. While many of these patients are healing and thriving with their newly-granted access to cannabis products, stories of patients like “Lillith” (name changed for privacy) have recently come to the attention of industry advocates. A 36-year-old Columbus, Ohio resident suffering from anxiety and PTSD, Lillith has not been able to get her card, citing complexities of the law.

Lillith first pursued getting her medical marijuana card earlier this year hoping that benefits such as access to safer and higher-quality products, protection from law enforcement, and job security would help her to obtain marijuana to treat her condition safely and more effectively than her current treatment.

What Happens If You Don’t Get Approved?

Lillith made an appointment with a state-approved medical marijuana doctor. Because she was unaware that the MMJ doctor she went to needed a medical record from her therapist documenting her PTSD to verify her condition, she was denied and sent home. To add to her frustration, she spent $300 on the medical consultation without being approved for a card. While the medical office offered her an interest-free payment plan, Lillith’s condition has been a barrier to her financially. Her illness prevents her from working full time; therefore, she is making the payments on a credit card.

It’s important to ask some questions ahead of time at the MMJ doctor’s office. There is no standard price for a consultation and some doctors charge $300-$450 just for an initial examination. Some doctors require frequent visits, too, at an additional charge. According to one of the largest MMJ doctor’s office franchises with 10 doctors throughout the state of Ohio, you do not have to worry if you don’t get approved by one of their doctors as the entire cost of an appointment is only $60 if you are not approved.

Terrasana Cannabis Company is one of 15 Ohio dispensaries that were approved by the state and have opened. A total of 56 dispensaries are slated to open across the state.

When Lillith found a new therapist that promised to document her PTSD and generate the proper records for just $20 a week, she still ran into problems. This new doctor was reluctant to diagnose her PTSD as he didn’t feel as though Lillith’s life was impacted enough to support a PTSD diagnosis.

“I had a PTSD diagnosis in college 15 years ago, but that doctor has changed practices and the records are lost,” Lillith says. “Apparently I am no longer displaying enough symptoms that my current therapist is willing to write it on a piece of paper because she disagrees with using MMJ.”

Patients Seeking To Reap Benefits of State-Regulated Cannabis Over Black Market

Lillith had hoped that getting her medical card would afford her reliable access to safe products where she knows the exact THC/CBD content, strain, harvest date, and other variables of the products as produced and tested by Ohio cultivators. “I would know what I was getting at a dispensary,” she said. Purchasing marijuana on the black market comes with serious risks. Black market marijuana can contain mold, be treated with dangerous pesticides, or be incorrectly labeled, which can all raise huge health concerns for patients with medical conditions that weaken their immune systems, such as cancer.

In addition to the problems she’s had getting a proper diagnosis and obtaining her medical card, Lillith also happens to work for a company with a strict drug-free workplace policy. Ohio does not provide any protection to medical marijuana patients who are subjected to employee drug testing. The decision to drug test and to hire, fire, or keep an employee is left to the discretion of each employer whether they wish to recognize an employee’s medical marijuana approval as an exemption to company drug testing policies or not. Because there is no exception to the policy for medical marijuana users, Lillith feels the need to keep her cannabis use confidential, which exposes the entire company to safety concerns.

Protection from Law Enforcement a Benefit of Ohio MMJ Card

Lilleth also wanted to get her MMJ card to protect her from the police, but what those protections can be unclear. “I just spent time looking and can’t dig up exactly what the protections are. I gave up. That’s a problem,” Lillith says.

Brien K Miller, a Fairfield-based attorney and MMJ advocate, says “The ramifications for drug convictions in Ohio right now are really bad.”

His advice? “The first thing you need to do in Ohio is get legal,” Miller said at a recent forum on MMJ hosted by MedicateOH. “You can have a conviction with legal consequences prohibiting you from getting students loans or acquiring employment.”

Miller explained that being arrested with two vape pens can prevent someone from acquiring a job. Three vape pens is “felony territory.”

He says: “It’s really important to consider your future when deciding if you want to use legally or illegally.”

Could MMJ Card Be A Benefit in the Workplace?

According to the Ohio Bureau of Workers’ Compensation, nothing in Ohio’s MMJ law requires an employer to accommodate an employees’ use of MMJ. Additionally, employers can drug test, implement a zero tolerance drug-free policy, can refuse to hire someone, and can terminate an employee because of a positive MMJ drug test. Because marijuana is illegal under federal law it is therefore not protected by the Americans with Disabilities Act, employers often feel they are doing the right thing to keep their employees safe on the job. However, a recent case in Connecticut has found an employer liable for discriminating against a medical marijuana user, which could set an interesting new precedent.

Despite the program’s complexities, Ohio patients have mostly expressed appreciation that there is a legal outlet for them to medicate with cannabis at all. With some of the stigma fading away, and patients become more educated on the issue, Ohioans are paving an easier path to choosing an alternative medicine to treat 21 different health conditions, with additional conditions (anxiety, autism) being voted on in the near future.