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First Ohio Marijuana Expo attracts about 1,500 people in Cleveland

By MARCIA PLEDGER • Jan 29, 2019 at 7:00 PM

CLEVELAND — A wheelchair didn't stop Mary Atwater from joining about 1,500 other Ohioans who came to the inaugural Marijuana Expo Cleveland Saturday, an event aimed at raising awareness and educating the public about the fast-growing medical cannabis industry.

"I have multiple sclerosis, paralysis on one side of my face, and a lot of chronic pain, and I want to learn more about medical marijuana. I see some things on TV and I've read some things about it, but I want to talk to some people in the field," said Atwater, 66, of Cleveland. "I don't know if it will be helpful or not, but I want to know more about it."

Atwater represented the sentiment of most of the people attending the event held at Red Space in Cleveland, at 2400 Superior Ave. Some already had medical marijuana cards, and some were seeking jobs, but it seemed like everyone was hungry for more information.

The event was hosted by Ohio Marijuana Card, a start-up business that has state-certified doctors throughout Ohio who specialize in recommending medical marijuana for qualifying patients. Tickets were sold in advance for $8 to about 1,200 people, and Amanda Ferdig, head event coordinator, estimated that another 300 people paid $10 at the door. Some traveled from other parts of Ohio including Cincinnati, Columbus and Dayton.

"This turnout is better than we expected. We thought we would put together a small, hometown expo, but clearly the people wanted more," she said. "Now we're planning to host three more events this year in Cincinnati, Columbus and...well, we haven't decided the fourth city yet."

Randy Shaffer, marketing director for Ohio Marijuana Card, said people are starving for information about the fast-growing medical marijuana industry.

"Right now, there's a line of about 150 people outside waiting to get inside. We're letting people in when security tells us we can," he said late Saturday morning. "This is a great turnout for a first event."

The event attracted 32 vendors that included two dispensaries, wellness-related companies, a start-up magazine, the Cleveland School of Cannabis, and a 24-year-old custom T-shirt and production company based in Painesville that just launched a new cannabis division a few months ago.

"We started looking at this industry about a year ago, but when we heard about this expo three weeks ago we decided to go for it and we've created 48 designs so far," said Pat White, co-owner of Cannabis Custom Tees, noting that he was concerned when he looked online and there were only 400 attendees registered in advance. He said he couldn't have been happier with the turnout, which helped validate the decision to launch a cannabis division.

"If this event was marketed more, I'll bet there would have been a whole lot more people here today. Just look around. I'm looking forward to being part of their next event now."

Both he and his wife, Joey, said they're excited about the opportunities in this new field, because they're making T-shirts for consumers, people in the medical field and people working in the industry. Some of the T-shirt sayings include, "Nature's Medicine," "Legalize Cannabis," "Chronic Relief" and "Alcohol Kills Cannabis Chills."

Dr. William Kedia, a co-owner of Terrasana, a dispensary that plans to open its first of four locations in Garfield Heights in late February, said he's passionate about the opportunity to be in this field. He's been a primary care doctor for about 20 years. His father, a urologist for 40 years, with at least 100,000 patients over the decades, is among his partners.

"I'm a primary care physician in Stow and Tallmadge for about 20 years. In all of my years of being a physician I have not seen this level of excitement for anything like this. Nearly every day patients are asking me about medical marijuana, and believe it or not, the average age of these people inquiring is about 65," he said, noting it's one of the reasons he decided to get into the field.

Kedia said the other reason that he decided to be a dispensary owner is because he's seen first-hand -- way too many times -- the detrimental effect of opioids on patients.

"When it comes to dealing with chronic pain, the only option is getting on narcotics, and I've seen people get addicted with just two doses on IV's," he said. "My passion will always be helping people. That's why I decided to get into this field. I kept asking myself, what more can I do, especially with this opiod epidemic."

"Our group is very focused on medicine before anything else," he said. "Otherwise, why do it? Look at this turnout. People want information. The No. 1 question we've been getting today is when do you open, followed by, will you have products?"

Kevin Greene, vice president of admissions and recruiting at the Cleveland School of Cannabis, said most people stopping by their booth were just trying to navigate this new field.

"People are trying to understand what types of jobs are available in this new industry, and they don't realize that with a new industry you need everything, and some of those jobs have nothing to do with being close to the plant," he said. "There's all sorts of opportunities."

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(c)2019 The Plain Dealer, Cleveland

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