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Can Medical Marijuana Bring Innovation to Ohio?

Travis Irvine Travis Irvine Can Medical Marijuana Bring Innovation to Ohio?Photo by Katheirne Hitt.
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As state officials continue to stop and sputter along the path to Ohio’s legalization of medical marijuana, most recently announcing that the entire program may have to be paused due to flaws in the state’s licensing process, experts and supporters of the cannabis industry continue to hold out hope that Ohio’s law will allow for the kind of product innovation that has so readily developed with marijuana legalization (both medicinal and recreational) in other states.

In 2016, legal marijuana sales hit $6.7 billion, and these profits are projected to quadruple by 2025 if trends continue. In 2017 alone, the marijuana industry was at the top of its game when it came to product innovation. From companies that developed better consumption devices like more convenient vaporizers, joint rolling techniques and portable “water pipes,” to others that specialized in better cultivation technologies like grow room automation systems, extraction hardware and even “seed to sale” software, the industry is developing new products like never before as marijuana legalization continues to expand at an astounding pace.

Of course, previous to last year’s latest consumption and cultivation products alike, there were still plenty of innovative ways for patients and customers to consume the drug. Besides the basic old school methods of smoking or vaping the plant itself, partakers could consume marijuana orally through tinctures, ingestible oils or edibles, which can be found in various forms — from cookies and brownies to ice creams and even sodas.

Not surprisingly, due to the harshness of consuming marijuana by smoking it, these other marijuana products have become popular with older users. And if that’s not your thing, there are even ways to utilize the drug topically. Yes, we’ve come a long way since Woodstock, and at this point there’s no turning back.

Fortunately, considering the fact that Ohio’s medical marijuana law actually requires patients with any of 21 specified diseases or conditions to not smoke the plant, these innovations become pretty essential.

According to longtime Ohio marijuana advocate Mary Jane Borden, House Bill 523 only permits such usable forms of cannabis as oils, tinctures, edibles and patches, with a restriction on any of these forms that may be attractive to children.

“It’s fairly easy to foresee this [last] provision being used to outlaw [such edibles as] gummy bears,” Borden wrote in an email.

However, just because Ohio’s law calls for innovative ways to consume the drug, that won’t exactly bode well for seeing new innovations within our state, according to marijuana industry advisor Drew Ullman, who helped clients navigate Ohio’s arcane licensing process in the last year.

“Unless there is a particularly inventive producer here who is willing to take a big risk, I don’t see them improving much on what others have already done elsewhere,” Ullman said. “Because of the limited number of licenses, producers will have little if any incentive to innovate since they have the market all to themselves.”

This means those who are allowed to can likely license innovative products from other states, but can’t do much innovating themselves. This is unfortunate, especially considering Ohio’s recent track record for creative entrepreneurs in the last few years. Perhaps Ohio lawmakers should remember as they continue to work out the law in the months and years ahead what happened when they eased up on micro-distillery restrictions in the state. After all, if Ohio wants to get in on the billions of dollars of profits the marijuana industry is already promising, it’s probably high time to legalize innovation.


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