The Ohio State Capitol in Columbus. Credit: Jim Bowen / Flickr

Ohio regulators say the RFA II round of 73 new dispensary licenses will be announced within a month, a move that would more than double the number of medical licenses in the state and increase proximity to legal cannabis dispensaries.

The RFA II November application deadline drew 1,462 license applications, say regulators. A drawing to rank winners was held and released in late January. Cameron McNamee, the Ohio Board of Pharmacy’s director of policy and communications, said the Board is in the process of reviewing applications and hopes to release these licenses by next month. While the first round selected applicants based on merit for things such as finances and security, this round of licenses were drawn from a lottery process.

Under the Board of Pharmacy’s plan, Ohio will get up to 131 medical dispensaries, up from the current 58 operating licenses. The Board’s review process takes into account whether applicants have a mandated $250,000 available to establish a business and geographical location, since by state law dispensaries need to be at least 500 away feet from “prohibited facilities” such as schools or churches.

For the new tranche of licenses, the Board is focusing on counties without dispensaries to decrease the number of registered patients per dispensary in each district to below 1,200 per district. The districts proposed were Williams, Fulton, Defiance Counties in the “NW1” district, Paulding, Van Wert, Mercer Counties in the “NW2” district, and Shelby, Miami, Logan in “SW3” district.

McNamee said that the state’s program would inevitably grow but was surprised by the demand for new businesses. The goal for expansion now is to ensure the licenses are not overly concentrated in the biggest cities.

A 2020 study by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy showed that more than 60% of Ohioans travel more than 10 miles to go to one dispensary.

“Our goal is to ensure that we have enough geographical diversity in our licenses,” McNamee said. “We have 261,000 patients in the state. We started small but we knew we could and would have to scale up the program later on.”

Pete Nischt, vice president of compliance and communications at Klutch Cannabis, said his company submitted more than 70 applications to expand operations in the state, including in Canton and Euclid. The Akron-based business is one of the largest medical operations in the state and said that it was critical to expand the license to more counties.

“We’re really excited about it and we think it’s really important to see that competition,” Nischt said. “As a 100 percent Ohio company, we want to talk directly to our customers about our products. It’s sometimes difficult to talk to others the way we want to, so it helps to be closer to them and their purchases.”

Andy Rayburn, CEO and founder of cultivator Buckeye Relief and dispensary Amplify, said that expanding operations is helpful for the state.

“I feel that the more operations, the better for Ohio,” Rayburn said. “A lot of dispensaries had long lines, including in the winter last year. The growth was necessary.”

While the state expands its medical program, Ohioans continue to push the state legislature to adopt recreational use. State cannabis lobbyists and activists hosted a lobby day on Apr. 20 to organize and advocate for an adult use bill to be passed by the state legislature. Senate Bill 261 stands as the current best chance of making this a reality, which would legalize recreational use and a slew of other reforms.

Nischt said that it is possible to see this happen in the future, viewing it as the next logical step, and Rayburn predicts that adult use in the state will happen at the end of this year or by 2024 at the latest.

“The state has changed, and it’s not a political partisan issue anymore,“ Nischt said. “It’s helping all people all around. We see retails as the next step of where we are headed.”

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Trey Arline is Grown In’s Midwest Reporter. He was most recently with the Daily Herald, but has also reported for Vegas PBS, The Nevada Independent, and the Associated Press.