At some point in the coming weeks or months you may be able to obtain marijuana to treat what ails you, but when exactly is still not clear, and the how is a little complicated as well.
The plan was for medical marijuana to be available to Ohioans a month from now, by Sept. 8. Now, however, state officials are saying that’s an impossible deadline.
The Ohio Medical Marijuana Control Program will allow people with certain medical conditions to buy and use marijuana. However, the purchase requires the approval of a physician, and not just any physician.
Only physicians who have been certified by the State Medical Board will be able to authorize patients to purchase marijuana. So far, three Athens doctors have completed the required minimum two hours of continuing medical education to receive the certification.
Those doctors are Chad Bigony, D.O., Barbara Singer, D.O., and John Ortman, M.D. Ortman is retired, and Singer lives in Athens but practices in Carroll south of Columbus.
That leaves Bigony, who’s in the process of setting up shop in Athens.
“My medical practice is not open yet,” he said. “It will be called Athens Integrative Medicine, and will be located at 530 W. Union St.”
Dr. Bigony said he expects to open on or around Sept. 1.
“I got certified for a couple reasons,” he said. “One is, I believe that cannabis is a medicine that could help a lot of people. (Also) I figured many physicians would not want to bother with the additional administrative burden the cannabis certificate entails.”
Bigony acknowledged that initially he was skeptical of medical marijuana.
“I didn’t consider it serious treatment until I did the University of Arizona Fellowship in Integrative Medicine,” he said. “Cannabis was discussed in various modules. I became more enthused after I did the cannabis curriculum through the Medical Cannabis Institute.”
OhioHealth O’Bleness Hospital – which is affiliated with several doctors’ offices – may be getting in on the action, too.
“I am aware of at least one physician here who plans to seek certification,” said Keely Stockwell, marketing and communications manager with OhioHealth O’Bleness.
At Hopewell Health Centers in Athens, the situation is much the same, according to Clinic Director Sandy Sickles. She said Hopewell staff have discussed medical marijuana but no decisions have been made.
“I am not seeing much desire to obtain certification,” said Rodney Stout, M.D., the chief medical officer at Holzer Health System, which operates the Holzer Clinic on Athens’ Far East Side. “A few physicians, however, have recently inquired about the process.”
ANYONE WHO WANTS TO OBTAIN medical marijuana in Ohio must first be diagnosed with one of 21 qualifying conditions. According to the state medical board, those are: AIDS; amyotrophic lateral sclerosis; Alzheimer’s disease; cancer; chronic traumatic encephalopathy; Crohn’s disease; epilepsy or another seizure disorder; fibromyalgia; glaucoma; hepatitis C; inflammatory bowel disease; multiple sclerosis; pain that is either chronic and severe or intractable; Parkinson’s disease; positive status for HIV; post-traumatic stress disorder; sickle cell anemia; spinal cord disease or injury; Tourette’s syndrome; traumatic brain injury; or ulcerative colitis.
“My reading of the Ohio code is that cannabis cannot be the first treatment,” Dr. Bigony said. “I, as a physician, have to verify that you have one of the conditions through reviewing your medical chart, and that other treatments have been tried.”
According to Bigony, a person can't simply walk in and state they have a qualifying condition, and then automatically gain access to medical marijuana.
“I plan on seeing people several times throughout the year, similar to the rule that opiate patients are supposed to be seen every three months,” Bigony said. “I want to make the program and process legitimate. Otherwise I fear there will be (a) backlash against cannabis.”
If you are diagnosed with one of the conditions listed above, your physician can write you a “recommendation.”