Rural Medical Marijuana Users Often Have Long Treks to Ohio Dispensaries

October 28, 2019by Patrick Cooley
Christopher Mastrilli, general manager of the Ohio Provisions medical marijuana dispensary in Carroll, arranges the dispensary's products before opening. He said his store will provide products to all patients, but "we've got a population in this area that we are here to serve." (Patrick Cooley/Columbus Dispatch/TNS)

COLUMBUS, Ohio — When Ohio doled out medical marijuana dispensary licenses, state officials took location into account. The idea was to grant licenses to a geographically diverse set of applicants so all patients, regardless of their hometown, had access to a dispensary.

It hasn’t worked as planned.

A map of dispensaries reveals three yawning gaps, in the northwestern tip of Ohio, in southeastern Ohio near the West Virginia border and in the region north of Columbus centered on Mansfield.

“There’s a lot up north,” said Christopher Mastrilli, general manager of the Ohio Provisions dispensary in Carroll, about a 30-minute drive east of Columbus. “There’s a larger concentration in the Cleveland and Toledo area. Dayton and Cincinnati now have a couple. But there’s also (dispensaries in) Coshocton and Jackson to the east and south. So there’s certainly a representation across the state.”

Small cities including Fremont, Coshocton and Wintersville have dispensaries. However, numerous patients say they still face long drives. In a survey released in September by the Ohio State University Drug Enforcement Policy Center, marijuana cardholders listed distance as the second-largest barrier to access behind high prices.

When the Ohio Board of Pharmacy accepted dispensary applications, they divided the state into 31 dispensary districts. However, one of those districts did not have a viable candidate and two had no applicants, board spokeswoman Ali Simon said in an email.

The board considered many other factors, such as the applicant’s experience in the cannabis industry.

Some patients say they drive more than an hour to a dispensary, an expensive proposition given that a one-day supply of medical marijuana can cost as much as $50. Distance is an especially high hurdle for people who are disabled or use marijuana to manage chronic pain.

Medical marijuana cardholder Bill Langmeyer, 39, lives in Defiance, about 2 1/2 hours north of Columbus, and must drive about an hour and 20 minutes to Toledo.

“It’s inconvenient, to say the least,” he said.

Rachel Fredericy, 40, lives in North Fairfield in Huron County, about two hours north of Columbus. Fredericy uses marijuana to treat fibromyalgia, but she can’t always afford to make the 45-minute drive to the nearest dispensary and rarely has enough money to stock up on cannabis products, meaning she often must ration or go without.

“I go maybe once a week, or once every two weeks,” she said. “It would be less time-consuming (if a dispensary was closer).”

Phillip Levering Sr., 68, lives in South Zanesville, about an hour east of Columbus. Levering has a half-hour drive to his nearest dispensary. He uses marijuana to treat chronic pain from multiple sclerosis, and his condition precludes him from driving longer than 30 minutes.

He said road construction currently blocks his path to his preferred dispensary, and he can’t make the roughly 50-minute drive to the next-nearest one.

Even those who live close to dispensaries sometimes find a lack of options.

Jessica Winters, 39, lives in Columbiana in eastern Ohio, a short drive from the Pennsylvania border. Winters said she can drive 20 to 25 minutes to a dispensary in Youngstown. However, a more distant dispensary, 40 minutes away, has more affordable prices.

Costs at the closer dispensary “are almost twice what they are at the place I go to,” she said.

Several dispensary owners and managers said they intentionally opened their operations outside big cities.

“One of the very first dispensaries that was open is in Wintersville, in a small town in a very rural portion of the state,” said Alex Thomas, executive director of the Ohio Medical Marijuana License Holder Coalition. Wintersville is near Steubenville, a few miles from the Pennsylvania state line.

Ohio Provisions is in Carroll, about a half-hour southeast of Columbus. It sits near Route 33, a heavily traveled corridor connecting Columbus with Lancaster.

“Columbus patients’ needs will be met,” said Ohio Provisions General Manager Christopher Mastrilli. “But we’ve got a population in this area that we are here to serve. We don’t want people to have to go to an urban area to get the medicine that’s recommended.”

The Ohio Cannabis Company dispensary is in Coshocton, about 1 1/2 hours east of Columbus. “I live here and wanted to continue to service our area,” said co-owner Cindy Bradford. “There’s patients who find comfort in the fact that we’re rural.”

Even as some patients experience long drives, price is still the biggest barrier, said Tim Johnson, co-founder of the Ohio Cannabis Chamber of Commerce, an advocacy group that supports legalized cannabis.

“I don’t think that’s as much of a concern at this point as the pricing,” he said of the long drives.

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©2019 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio)

Visit The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) at www.dispatch.com

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