Ohio’s medical marijuana cultivators can now request permission to expand their grow space.
Expansion requests will be granted to businesses that have complied with rules and regulations, are already using the maximum amount of space allowed by the state and demonstrate a need to expand to keep up with demand, the Ohio Department of Commerce announced Wednesday.
The expansion process comes as the state plans to more than double the number of dispensaries to sell medical marijuana and after Akron-based cultivator Fire Rock Ltd. sued the state for failing to act on its February 2020 request to expand.
“This decision comes after review of multiple program metrics, including patient program participation and the Board of Pharmacy’s impending request for new dispensary license applications,” Commerce Department spokeswoman Jennifer Jarrell said in an email. “The timing allows eligible cultivators ample opportunity to expand their cultivation capacity and production before the additional dispensaries become operational.”
Fire Rock and several other small-scale growers, capped at 3,000 square feet of grow space, had requested expansion in early 2020. Their argument: They were consistently selling out of product while the state had already expanded the number of licensees beyond the initial 24 due to appeals and lawsuits.
More:‘Shortages are only going to increase.’ In Ohio, medical marijuana growers want to expand – but the state stands in the way.
The Department of Commerce sat on Fire Rock’s request and the company sued. The Ohio Supreme Court ordered the agency to make a decision, and the request was rejected.
Expansion was “premature” because there was “a sufficient program-wide supply,” Commerce Director Sheryl Maxfield wrote to Fire Rock in April. The letter also noted that seven cultivators were not yet operational, representing 24% of all allotted grow space statewide.
Fire Rock appealed through the administrative review process. But after Wednesday’s announcement, the issue could be moot.
Ohio has licensed 20 cultivators who can grow up to 25,000 square feet of marijuana and 15 cultivators that can grow up to 3,000 square feet. State rules allow licensees to expand to 75,000 square feet and 9,000 square feet, respectively, but didn’t outline a process for requesting expansion.
The seven cultivators mentioned in the April letter are still not yet operational.
There were about 125,000 active registered medical marijuana patients in the state as of July 31. The state’s initial business license caps were based on a patient population of about 24,000.
Jackie Borchardt is the bureau chief for the USA TODAY Network Ohio Bureau, which serves the Columbus Dispatch, Cincinnati Enquirer, Akron Beacon Journal and 18 other affiliated news organizations across Ohio.