Medical marijuana set-up costing Ohio taxpayers $6 million more

The price of marijuana is going up — for Ohio taxpayers.

The State Controlling Board, a legislative panel that oversees state expenditures, on Monday approved an additional $6 million to pay for startup expenses for the Ohio Medical Marijuana Program. That brings the total to about $11 million so far that taxpayers have paid for the program.

In separate votes, the board approved an additional $1.6 million for the Ohio Board of Pharmacy and $4.4 million for the Ohio Commerce Department. Both agencies are involved in setting up the new program to permit sale of medical marijuana to qualifying patients by September 2018.

The money earmarked for the Board of Pharmacy will be used to hire a consultant to create a scoring system to approve marijuana dispensary licenses, pay for a toll-free hotline and cover anticipated legal expenses, according to Controlling Board documents.

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The Commerce Department said it will use the new money primarily for a "seed-to-sale" database tracking program related to the planting, harvest, processing and sale of medical marijuana and products containing it to people with any of 21 specified diseases, medical conditions and chronic pain.

About $5 million was previously approved by the Controlling Board for related startup expenses. State agencies that they expect to be able to repay some of the advance money from licenses and fees when the program is up and running.

Creating the program from the ground up is a big undertaking for state officials who have so far accepted applications for 24 cultivators in two size categories to grow marijuana. They must also approve laboratories to test the product, processors to turn it into products for medical use and 60 dispensaries to sell to the public.

The law will allow patients to get a recommendation from a medical doctor for marijuana that can be vaporized but not smoked. It will also be available as oils, patches and in edible products.

The Ohio General Assembly approved the program last year largely to thwart a marijuana ballot issue proposed by a national organization. Gov. John Kasich signed it into law.

ajohnson@dispatch.com

@ohioaj

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