Washington County pharmacies just say no to medical marijuana

Photo by Michael Kelly Pharmacists Andrew Scott and Penny Daugherty prepare prescriptions Friday afternoon at the K-Mart pharmacy in Marietta. Established pharmacies can’t dispense medical marijuana without violating their Schedule 1 DEA conditions, which means the drug will be available only at state-licensed dispensaries.

MARIETTA — When medical marijuana becomes available, it appears, Washington County will have one doctor and one dispensary to meet the needs of its patient population.

The dispensary, to be located at 414 Greene St., at the corner where the Williamstown Bridge meets Greene Street, will be operated by Cannascend Alternatives LLC, a Cincinnati-based company.

Among the 56 dispensaries licensed by the state, established pharmacies are conspicuously absent. None of the permits were issued to CVS, Rite Aid, Walgreens or any of the other national chains.

The independent pharmacies in the county, White Oak in Barlow and B&W in Beverly, said this week they don’t intend to carry any medical marijuana products.

Tom Glazier at White Oak said in fact the store used to carry compounds containing CBD oil — cannabidiol, one of the active ingredients in hemp and marijuana, which does not have psychoactive properties — but the new Ohio medical marijuana law made those illegal except for sale in licensed dispensaries.

Photo by Michael Kelly A new sign is up outside a former Memorial Health System clinic in Devola on Ohio 60. The Compassionate Care Clinic, operated by Dr. David Spears, will provide care to patients seeking medical marijuana treatment.

CBD has been sold by health stores and pharmacies for years, with applications that include treatment for skin irritation such as acne, anxiety, inflammation and pain relief. The substance is not FDA-approved for any of those applications and has been sold, where legal, as a health supplement similar to aromatic oils and herbal compounds. Although derived from hemp and marijuana, it does not contain the psychoactive substance THC — tetrahydrocannabinol — that produces the euphoric effect.

“The state lumps it all together,” Glazier said. “Even though it’s not marijuana, it has to be purchased through an entity that has the licensing to dispense. We had to take ours off the shelf and send it back.”

Glazier said the pharmacy has no intention of applying for a dispensary license.

The county’s other independent pharmacy is B&W in Beverly, and Rebecca Wagner, who noted she is not one of the operation’s owners, said to her knowledge the pharmacy has no plans to apply.

Pharmacies are caught in a regulatory no-man’s-land, according to Grant Miller, medical marijuana patient and caregiver liaison with state of Ohio Board of Pharmacy, which controls the dispensary licensing process.

Photo by Michael Kelly The building at 414 Greene St. in Marietta that will house a medical marijuana dispensary sits vacant. Operations are expected to start after the beginning of the new year.

Applicants had to meet a set of guidelines that included financial requirements — the assets needed to run the operation — and permission from the local jurisdiction to run such an operation. They had to document ownership and the primary investors, he said.

The difficulty for established pharmacies is the conflict between state and federal law governing marijuana products, he said.

“These are facilities that would be dispensing marijuana, and that would be tough if you were a pharmacy,” he said.

Marijuana, although now legal in Ohio for medical use, is still a Schedule 1 narcotic under Drug Enforcement Administration rules, and selling it would violate the Schedule 1 permits of pharmacies, leaving them the choice of dispensing marijuana products or any other drugs, but not both.

“That’s a determination the applicant would have to make, if they had a DEA license,” Miller said.

Michael DeAngelis, senior director of corporate communications for CVS, told The Marietta Times it’s pretty black-and-white.

“We cannot sell medical marijuana in our pharmacies,” he said. “It remains classified as a Schedule One controlled substance under federal law. As such, pharmacies are not permitted under the terms of their DEA registrations to dispense any Schedule One controlled substance. It would be a violation of federal law for any pharmacy licensed by the DEA to dispense medical marijuana.”

Corporate communications representatives for Walgreen’s or Rite Aid did not respond to an inquiry from The Marietta Times on Friday.

Friday afternoon, the building at 414 Greene St., formerly an accounting office with an auto detailing shop in back, was vacant and waiting for its new occupant, Cannascend Alternatives LLC.

On Ohio 60 in Devola, a small complex previously occupied by a Memorial Health System physicians’ clinic bore a new sign, Compassionate Care Clinic. It will be operated by the only doctor in Washington County who has received clearance to issue certificates of recommendation for medical marijuana, Dr. David Spears.

Spears said in an interview in September that the clinic will be exclusively dedicated to patients seeking medical marijuana treatment from Washington, Noble and Guernsey counties. In states that have established medical marijuana systems, about 3 percent of the population have undergone marijuana treatment. Adjusting for age — in Ohio, it cannot be prescribed for patients under 18 — the three counties would have a pool of 1,500 to 2,000 prospective patients.

In places where medical marijuana has become an established treatment, he said, opioid prescribing has decreased significantly.

“I tried my best to work with the local health care system, but in the end I decided to set up a clinic outside the system to allow patients a resource,” he said. Spears has practiced family medicine, and emergency and trauma care in Marietta for 15 years.

He is holding a question-and-answer session at the Compassionate Care Clinic, 4800 State Route 60, open to everyone Thursday starting at 6 p.m.

Spears said he doesn’t expect medical marijuana to be available until after the first of the year as product goes through the processing system and begins to fill the supply chain, but he will start taking applications for treatment about 60 days before the anticipated opening of the dispensary.