Hundreds flock to medical marijuana conference

Roughly 400 people packed into a meeting room at Ohio State University on Wednesday, hunting for information on just how Ohio’s new medical marijuana industry will unfold.

The newly formed Ohio Cannabis Association organized the three-hour networking and information session at the Ohio Union. It drew in state Sen. Kenny Yuko, D-Richmond Heights — a key legislator behind the new law — as well as investor Jimmy Gould, who backed ResponsibleOhio’s failed legalization ballot issue in 2015, and top executives at two Ohio-based plant oils extraction and edibles companies, and others.

Devon Kehoe, a Cleveland native who ran a medical marijuana delivery service in the Detroit area, said he showed up to find out what business opportunities there will be in Ohio. Tom Garber, also of Cleveland, said he worked as a cultivator in metro Detroit. “I just want to be up to date and get into the industry in Ohio,” Garber said.

The association, which calls itself the “central voice” for business, patients and advocates, predicts that medical marijuana in Ohio will bud into a $1.5- to $2-billion a year industry serving 200,000 patients.

Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed House Bill 523 into law June 8. It lays out a framework and time line for regulating the new industry through the state Department of Commerce, Pharmacy Board and Medical Board of Ohio. It lists 19 qualifying conditions for patients to be eligible for medical marijuana. It prohibits home grow and smoking cannabis and allows employers to dismiss workers who violate their workplace drug policies.

But the new law leaves much of the detail work to the regulators: how will cultivation licenses be granted? how many patients will likely qualify? how many doctors are likely to seek certification? how many growing sites and dispensaries will be needed to meet demand?

John Hudak, a marijuana policy expert at the Brookings Institute, told people at the conference that Ohio borrowed elements from other states and predicted that there would be growing pains and a need for revisions. He advised marijuana advocates to hold elected officials and regulators accountable.

Gould said his investment company, Green Light Acquisitions LLC, would like to land a cultivator license. “It has got to be a smart economic investment,” said Gould, of Cincinnati. “If done right, it could take as much as $20 million.”

Former state Sen. Chris Widener, a Springfield Republican who is a registered lobbyist for Buckeye Agriculture LLC, declined to comment on why he was attending the medical marijuana conference.

Former Ohio Supreme Court Justice Eric Brown, a Columbus area Democrat, said he is interested whether medical marijuana can help ease the chronic pain suffered by his 37-year-old daughter, Daryn. “We are hopeful. There is just a lot more research that needs to be done. It might be helpful or it might not,” he said.

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