CLEVELAND, OH (WOIO) - Thirty states have legalized medical marijuana in some form, each with their own distinctions. Colorado was one of the first states to legalize it medically: 18 years ago.
In that time, their laws have been revised and refined, with other states looking to them to see what has gone well, and what hasn’t.
Cleveland 19 traveled to Denver, securing an exclusive interview with Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper to discuss the topic.
“I tell everyone to go slowly and carefully,” he said of the advice he’s given to other politicians and community leaders.
“There’s still a lot of questions about unintended consequences," he continued.
One of Colorado’s unintended consequences happened about a decade ago, when a legislative tweak led to a glut of dispensaries. Even now, medical marijuana dispensaries outnumber Starbucks and McDonalds, combined.
Ohio’s law prohibits such saturation. There will be only 56 dispensaries across the entire state, with only five in Cuyahoga County.
Crime is a concern whenever a jurisdiction legalizes marijuana. Hickenlooper said crime statistics are still tough to come by.
“The baselines weren’t very good. Somebody at the federal level should be spending a couple million bucks and looking at all the states that legalized medical marijuana first, then recreational marijuana, and see if there’s been more crime, or less crime," he said.
“We don’t have any data. So that’s my big push is that we should figure out some way to get more research,” he continued.
At the University of Denver, marijuana isn’t just a topic among undergrads, it’s a class taught by Paul Seaborn.
“Folks in all aspects in the industry are sensitive and concerned about what does it mean to have medical patients using this product regularly and who drive vehicles, go to work, to go elsewhere. It’s a more complicated product the way it’s been explained to me, medically, than alcohol. Applying the same approach to monitoring impaired driving doesn’t seem to work,” he said.
He’s right. In Ohio, several law enforcement agencies have begun training on how to spot “drugged” driving.
Limiting who can get a card is an upstream provision to keep impaired drivers off the road. That is something Colorado initially got wrong.
“If they were to do it again, they probably would’ve given fewer medical cards. It was just too easy to get a card because they were kind of lenient on the whole idea of marijuana,” said Jack Strauss, a professor at DU.
There are 21 medical conditions that makes a person eligible to receive a medical marijuana card in Ohio. There's one in particular: severe, chronic, intractable pain, that gives regulators most concern for abuse.
“More than 90 percent, up to 95 percent of cards were given for pain and suffering -- like back pain,” Strauss said.
Ohio’s law guards against this abuse. A person will need to visit a doctor who is licensed to submit a medical marijuana recommendation to the State Pharmacy Board. From there, the Board will determine whether to issue a card or not. Only then will a person be able to buy product from a dispensary.
In Ohio, it will be illegal to use medical marijuana in public. Combusting it is also forbidden. Vapes, edibles, tinctures and balms are all acceptable.
Recently the Ohio Board of Pharmacy cleared up misconceptions regarding CBD products. While they cannot get you high and are widely available online and in stores, in Ohio, CBD products are covered by the medical marijuana law, and can only be sold in dispensaries.