State taps first round of legal pot growers, but some Ohioans aren't waiting
People like Kevin. That's not his real name. He asked us to not reveal it.
Every day Kevin starts his day with what some might call a classic "wake and bake". Under HB 523, signed into law by Governor John Kasich last year, he falls among patients with qualifying conditions eligible to obtain medical marijuana.
Kevin inhales, doesn't smoke marijuana from a "rig", not a bong. Or he'll vape it. Terms which are important in the world of medical marijuana, there are rules.
"That is all vapor, so there's no smoking whatsoever," Kevin explained.
To better understand how Kevin got here, you have to go back 22 years ago. He was in the Air Force when he witnessed the horrific, accidental crash of a military plane. Twenty-four people were killed. People Kevin knew.
Then 9/11 happened too. And that's when Kevin's world changed.
"Something just clicked. I started suffering from post-traumatic stress disorder."
While some doctors gave him meds for depression, others managed his pain with Oxycontin and Percocet, only to take that away when they learned he was smoking pot.
Suddenly without painkillers, Kevin admits he could have turned to heroin, but didn't. Instead, he reached out to Omni Medical Services in Beachwood, when HB 523 went through.
"Marijuana used for medicinal purposes is our primary focus."
Louis Johnson IV is managing director at Omni Medical Services. He says Omni conferred with attorneys and the Ohio Medical Board before the company began making recommendations for patients.
Omni charged Kevin $250 and paired him with a physician. They don't take insurance. Johnson says they also don't accept far-fetched claims or people walking in off the street looking for pot.
'No one has ever tried. If you don't have your medical records from a licensed physician, you don't get any further," Johnson said.
Kevin got his written recommendation and an ID card. And now every few weeks he travels 2-and-a-half-hours to one of Michigan's many dispensaries.
His favorite is near the airport and across from a Ford plant. No appointment needed.
We followed Kevin there but were not permitted inside. The building is non-descript and actually shares space with a dental practice. There is no mention of marijuana written anywhere on the outside.
The only sign was a green cross.
We witnessed a steady stream of foot traffic before Kevin came out, with the biggest box of anyone. Full of products that could easily be mistaken for regular food, like brownies and edibles resembling kids candy.
But here's the twist. What's legal in the eyes of Ohio, isn't legal in the eyes of Uncle Sam. Ask the D.E.A. and they'll tell you.
"Marijuana is illegal. We don't recognize that as a legal substance," said Keith Martin, Assistant Special Agent in Charge with the D.E.A.'s Cleveland office.
But they're also not in the business of challenging state laws.
"We are targeting higher-level drug traffickers," Martin added.
To be clear, these recommendations or ID cards won't necessarily help if they pull you over and find pot in your trunk. The ID card is not a 'get out of jail free card'.
"Absolutely not. There's no such thing as protection against the law," Johnson said.
But Kevin is willing to take the risk, convinced his world has improved.
"My quality of life is better. My mood's better. The way I react and respond to things is better. ANd I don't have all these side effects I used to have," Kevin said.
September 8th, 2018 is the deadline for Ohio's dispensaries to open.