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Recreational marijuana is coming soon. Here's what to expect at Ohio dispensaries

Flowering marijuana plants grow inside Buckeye Relief's cannabis cultivation and processing facility in Eastlake.
Ryan Loew
Ideastream Public Media
State officials say Ohio dispensaries could potentially begin selling adult-use marijuana as soon as June if license applications can be processed swiftly.

Ohio adults could see recreational cannabis hitting dispensaries as early as June.

Earlier this month, a state committee approved regulations for how dispensaries will apply for the licenses required to sell medical and recreational marijuana. Those applications will need to be made available by June 7, after which medicinal dispensaries can apply for dual licenses that would permit them to also sell recreational marijuana.

Rep. Jamie Callender (R-Concord), who co-chairs the joint committee, said the state's Division of Cannabis Control told him turnaround times on applications will be prompt.

What to expect at dispensaries

Dispensaries are awaiting more details from the state prior to recreational rollout. But Paul Chialdikas, senior vice president and central regional leader at Curaleaf, a cultivator that owns and operates dispensaries in Cuyahoga Falls and Newark, said he expects a shopping process similar to the one used by medicinal customers.

"Medical patients are registered. They can come in with their card. The adult use customers will probably just be in the standard rules — 21 and older with identification, and then under the same buying rules as a medical patient," said Chialdikas, who plans to apply for a dual medicinal-recreational permit for his dispensaries.

Buyers can anticipate potential lines amid high demand and curiosity, said Chialdikas. His company has been through recreational rollouts in other states, such as Illinois.

"There were certain rules that we had to abide by, like opening up early or closing early and letting in just medical patients, and having separate lines for medical patients," Chialdikas said. "Again, we're going to wait to see how they define it."

Green Thumb Industries, which operates RISE dispensaries in Lakewood, Lorain and Cleveland, also plans on business as usual.

"We are excited to serve new adult-use customers, [but] we’ve maintained our focus on prioritizing our existing medical patients," said Dan Shaker, commercial general manager of Green Thumb.

Jeff McCourt, CEO of Firelands Scientific, which owns and operates The Landing Dispensary in Downtown Cleveland, said his company has hired additional staff and upgraded technology systems to ensure easy shopping experiences and swift checkouts, such as adding fast lanes for preorders. RISE dispensaries have also added more staff, parking and checkout systems, Shaker said.

Chialdikas said he doesn't anticipate any inflated prices during the recreational rollout, and that his cultivators expect to meet demand.

"The intent is to sustain the current inventory levels and our brands that we're currently servicing into the marketplace," he said.

Though demand is yet to be seen, McCourt noted that Ohio hasn't been short on supply since medicinal marijuana was legalized in 2016.

"Ohio has been in an oversupply situation for many years," McCourt said. "That has kept prices really low and, particularly over the last year, there's been additional cultivators that have come online with additional product, additional processors that have come online with more manufactured goods. So the view that we have of inventories is actually pretty strong across the network already."

Buyers can even expect to see prices fall over time, based on past experiences in other states, Shaker said.

What about medical patients?

Though cannabis will be available to all Ohio adults, don't throw away your medicinal card. There could be an additional 10% excise tax added to any non-medical purchases.

"So that's something that, for a lot of our patients that we've talked to, we're encouraging them to stick with the program," McCourt said.

The state Division of Cannabis Control also recently rescinded registration fees for medicinal patients.

"I expect there will be real long term benefits for patients to stay engaged in the [medicinal] program," McCourt said.

Despite uncertainties, Chialdikas said he's encouraged that to date, state regulations have remained fluid to ensure all parties involved can adapt.

"They are still going to be releasing rules as they move forward," he explained. "We as operators need to adapt to it and shift and pivot, which is great. We can do that."

City moratoriums

At least 47 Ohio communities have imposed a moratorium on recreational dispensaries, including Lakewood, according to an Ohio State University Moritz College of Law analysis. That prevents additional recreational dispensaries from opening shop in those municipalities, but does not prohibit operation of existing ones.

"Both [of Green Thumb's] Lakewood locations will be applying for dual licenses and plan to be open for the first day of adult-use sales," Shaker said.

If a dispensary license is issued for a locality that does not have a moratorium in place, the locality has 120 days to enact an ordinance prohibiting the operations of the dispensary, according to the Ohio State analysis. The dispensary then has 60 days to cease operations or initiate a petition to operate, which would be voted on in a following election.

Stephanie Metzger-Lawrence is a digital producer for the engaged journalism team at Ideastream Public Media.