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Ohio begins registering medical marijuana patients

By JIM PROVANCE • Dec 5, 2018 at 9:41 AM

COLUMBUS  — Ohio's online portal through which patients may register through their doctors to use medical marijuana quietly went live Monday, and state officials said medicinal pot products should be available for patient use within 60 days.

The state Board of Pharmacy sent notice to physicians as well as some patients and caregivers that the registration website was available. Only doctors who have been certified by the State Medical Board to recommend marijuana may access the website on behalf of patients they have determined do qualify under Ohio's fledgling medical marijuana program.

But that doesn't mean that marijuana products are legally available for purchase yet in Ohio, four months after the program was originally supposed to be fully operational. The flipping of the switch on the registry is a reflection that the pharmacy board believes product will, however, be available for purchase at licensed dispensaries within 60 days.

"We maintained that we will start registration no earlier than 60 days before product would be available," said board spokesman Grant Miller. "We have spoken with the industry, and this falls in line with that timeline. It gives people enough time to become registered."

Although physicians would access the registry for patients, an annual fee of $50 will be assessed for patients and $25 for caregivers.

After receiving a recommendation from their physicians, patients could then access the registry and print out a registration card or save it on their mobile devices to show to licensed dispensaries.

The board waited to start the registry in part because of the "affirmative defense" included in the 2016 law that legalized marijuana for medical use only.

Although it has been inconsistently applied, the law generally allows someone picked up for possessing or using medical marijuana while product is not available in Ohio to argue before a judge that he otherwise qualifies under Ohio's law.

It's up to the judge whether to accept the argument and look the other way if the patient displays a physician's recommendation and is using cannabis in a form allowed under the law.

That affirmative defense is set to expire 60 days after the state begins registering patients.

"The affirmative defense has always been there," Miller said. "We didn't want a situation where we were registering people and 60 days later when the affirmative defense expires there still were no dispensaries open with product."

When added to Ohio's medical marijuana law, the law's authors suggested it could allow those in need of medical marijuana before product was available here to get it from another state, such as Michigan. But there have been cases of people being charged for possession despite the defense.

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