The Columbus Dispatch reports….
Ohio’s medical marijuana industry is required to follow stringent rules that prevent it from taking some of the same precautions as pharmacies during the coronavirus outbreak. Some in the industry would like those rules eased.
The list of essential businesses allowed to remain open during the coronavirus pandemic includes medical marijuana dispensaries, which are in the same category as pharmacies because they provide what is considered medicine under Ohio law.
But a raft of regulations govern legal cannabis companies that don’t apply to pharmacies, and medical-marijuana industry officials worry that those restrictions hamper their ability to keep staff members and customers healthy. Marijuana businesses and groups representing patients are asking the state to relax some of those rules.
“There are certain adjustments to the program that can take place to make (dispensaries) function more like traditional pharmacies,” said Thomas Rosenberger, associate director of the Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association.
For example, Ohio grocery stores, pharmacies and restaurants that remain open offer curbside pickup, online ordering and delivery.
Strict guidelines prevent dispensaries from following suit. Ohio law, for example, requires a security camera to record all transactions and compels dispensary workers to check a patient’s marijuana card.
“Even if they allowed us to walk out the door (to fill orders outside), there’s still a lot of things the administrative code wants us to complete for fraud reasons and for safety reasons,” said Brian Wingfield, co-owner of the Ohio Cannabis Co. dispensary in Coshocton.
Most of the requested changes are modest. Industry representatives, for example, are in talks with state officials to loosen a rule that limits patients to a certain quantity of marijuana every 90 days. Pharmacies face no such restriction.
Some medical-marijuana advocates, however, want more comprehensive changes.
With marijuana still illegal under federal law, restrictions maintain the integrity of Ohio’s medical cannabis program, state officials say.
“The Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program’s goal is to have a patient-safe and (patient-) centered program,” Ali Simon, public and policy affairs liaison for the Ohio Board of Pharmacy, said in an email. “This includes having strict guidelines in place to protect patient safety and privacy and dispensary security.”
Some patients said the close proximity to employees and other customers makes them feel unsafe. Anthony Cordle, a medical marijuana cardholder who lives on the Far West Side, said his dispensary is often packed with patients.
“The counters are 2 feet apart,” he said. “You can touch the person next to you. You have to touch all the doorknobs (when you walk inside), and who knows who cleans those.”
Medical experts recommend staying at least 6 feet apart to avoid contracting COVID-19.
Dispensary representatives say they take an abundance of precautions.
Ohio Cannabis Co. employees wipe down all surfaces that employees and customers touch, limit the number of people in the dispensing room, and keep customers and employees at least 6 feet apart, Wingfield said.
“We need to be aware of what we’re doing because we can keep our staff safe so they’re able to keep providing medicine,” he said.