Why Ohio’s medical marijuana prices are so hard to figure

Patrick Cooley

| The Columbus Dispatch

The Ohio State University’s Drug Enforcement and Policy Center caused some consternation last month when it released the results of a survey that, among other things, estimated the average price of medical marijuana in Ohio at more than $18 per gram.

The Ohio Medical Cannabis Industry Association disputed their findings, claiming an average price under $11 per gram.

While the policy center’s figures weren’t wrong, they were misleading because most patients buy unprocessed flower, which is significantly cheaper than $18 per gram, said Jana Hrdinova, the center’s administrative director.

The group revised its figures after acquiring more information from the Ohio Department of Commerce, which tracks medicinal marijuana sales.

This might seem like a trivial disagreement, but the back and forth represents an acute example of just how difficult it can be to calculate the prices patients pay at Ohio’s medical marijuana dispensaries.

Patients consistently list cost as one of the biggest barriers to acquiring medicinal cannabis in the Buckeye State. The requisite doctor’s recommendation alone costs as much as $200, and knowing dispensary prices ahead of time helps patients decide if it’s worth it, Hrdinova said.

“Should you go through the expense of getting a recommendation and then realize you can’t afford it?” she said.

But gauging cost isn’t as simple as comparing dispensary menus.

“Those menus don’t reflect indigent discounts, veteran discounts, or individual sales,” said Caroline Henry, head of government relations for the medical marijuana company Buckeye Relief.

Between 10 to 20 % of Ohio’s medical marijuana dispensaries are running specials or promotions at any given time, she said.

And some products require fewer doses or last longer with a single dose, Hrdinova said.

When the drug policy center averaged the total sales in dollar figures and the total grams of marijuana sold, it lumped manufactured products like edibles and vaping oil together with unprocessed flower, which threw off the average, Hrdinova said.

“Flower is the majority of sales in the (Ohio) market,” said Buckeye Relief CEO Andy Rayburn. Flower, he said, costs significantly less than $18 per gram.

After the Medical Cannabis Industry Association raised concerns about the study in an email sent to news organizations, the policy center asked the commerce department for more detailed information.

The policy center then released new figures.

The price of flower, the center found, is more in line with the industry association’s estimate of less than $11 per gram. The prices of manufactured products, which a minority of patients prefer, is more than $46 per gram.

Marijuana capsules and gummies, for example, cost between $40 and $55 at the Herbology dispensary in Newark, according to an online menu.

Hrdinova wondered why the commerce department doesn’t include more detailed information on its website to better guide patients.

The commerce department is considering doing just that, said Jennifer Jarrell, the agency’s deputy chief communications officer.

“But from a patient perspective, we caution against solely relying on that information,” she said. “The program data provides averages for the entire state, and that wouldn’t necessarily be reflective of patient options at their nearest dispensary.”

State law requires dispensaries to publish their prices, Jarrell added.

Patients have told the Dispatch that they often drive to marijuana dispensaries in Michigan to buy cheaper products.

Whether or not the average prices in that state up north are less than Ohio’s, however, remains an open question.

The cannabis industry association found average prices in Michigan and Illinois, the two closest states with medical marijuana programs, roughly in line with those of Ohio. Illinois averages just under $14 per gram of unprocessed, and Michigan averages just over $10 per gram.

Ohio’s prices for unprocessed flower have fallen 38% since the first dispensary opened in January 2019, Rayburn said.

But Hrdinova said every state calculates prices differently, making comparisons troublesome.

“It’s difficult to know if you are comparing the same thing state to state,” she said.

Henry said the publicly available data at least makes it possible to calculate the price of unprocessed flower.

“(Price estimates) are typically based on the price of flower because the price of processed products covers a wide range of products,” she said.

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@PatrickACooley

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