Ohio is one of eight states rolling out medical marijuana programs. When Ohio lawmakers passed the state’s medical marijuana law last year, one of the provisions was that Ohio colleges and universities should be the first to test the state’s medical marijuana supply.
So far, just one school—Hocking College, a technical college in Nelsonville—has expressed interest. Jonathan Cachat is founder and CEO of Conscious Cannabis Ventures, a cannabis research and consulting firm. Cachat was recently hired by Hocking to direct its new Laboratory Sciences associate degree program, and he’s hoping to oversee Hocking’s marijuana testing lab as well.
According to Cachat, lawmakers wanted institutions of higher learning to have a head start with the permit process because profit is ostensibly secondary to increasing the body of scientific research around cannabis.
"(Lawmakers) have ensured that this raw, analytical testing data will be converted into information and actionable knowledge that can go back to doctors and healthcare professionals to improve treatment outcomes," Cachat said.
Research vs. profit
By contrast, Cachat said, privately owned testing labs are more likely to "hoard" research to stay ahead of the competition. But the potential for profit is not entirely out of the minds of Hocking administrators.
"Hocking College is certainly considering it to be a revenue stream," Cachat said.
Still, the prospect of a new source of revenue hasn't been enough to entice schools to get on board. Cachat said schools are nervous that federal funding may go away if they set up a cannabis testing lab on their campus. Even though 29 states plus Washington, D.C., have legalized medical marijuana, the federal government still classifies it as a Schedule 1 banned substance, alongside heroin and ecstasy.
"Whether or not that's a real risk remains to be seen," Cachat said. "But this perceived risk has been enough to cause them to hesitate to the point where they don't even want to test the waters."
Testing the state supply of medical marijuana is a crucial component of the production process. The state wants to ensure harmful kinds of mold, heavy metals, pesticides and other contaminants stay out of the supply chain. The amount of THC, the chemical compound in pot that produces the signature euphoric feeling, must also be controlled for medical use.
Cachat acknowledges that if cultivators, processors and distributors are not ready in time for the September 2018 deadline, his efforts will likely have been for nothing. He also needs patients to drive demand for medical marijuana. That's why he's also focusing his efforts on doctors.
"A majority of Ohio doctors seem to be trepidatious about integrating this into the treatment of their patients," Cachat said. "All of this could be for naught if there are no patients."
In the meantime, Cachat said cultivators will soon be awarded licenses to grow marijuana. Cachat said the infrastructure to build Ohio's medical pot program will be built literally from the ground up. Private companies hoping to open testing labs will have to wait until early June to be licensed.