Company News

License Sought to Open Medical Marijuana Dispensary

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – An investment group is seeking a state license to operate what would be the first medical marijuana dispensary in the city.

Holistic Health Partners LLC is working with architects to redesign space in the Mahoning Plaza on Mahoning Avenue for such a dispensary, said A.J. Caraballo, a partner in the venture. The company was established in February, according to documents on file with the Ohio secretary of state.

“We’re as far along as we can be,” Caraballo said Wednesday. “There’s still no application from the state yet, but those should be coming in a couple of weeks.”

Last month the State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy published its rules for the operation of medical marijuana dispensaries. These rules provide for the board to award up to 60 licenses across Ohio. However, the rules permit the board to issue additional licenses based on state population, patient population and geographic distribution to improve patient access.

Mahoning,Trumbull and Ashtabula counties are considered one district, and will be allowed two dispensaries.

The deadline to submit applications is sometime in November, Caraballo said, around the time the board will award the state’s first medical marijuana production licenses.

At least 11 groups have applied to operate Level I or Level II grow sites in the Mahoning Valley, six of which are considering to situate one within the city.

Caraballo, a licensed pharmacist, said that this operation would be highly regulated and developed along the lines of a professional medical office rather than a retail storefront. “I feel very strongly that this has professional medical oversight,” he remarked.

There is scientific basis to treat illnesses with medical marijuana, Caraballo said. “There’s validity to this, and that’s what piqued my interest.” He recently completed a continuing education program sponsored by the Massachusetts Medical Society, publishers of the New England Journal of Medicine, which helped explain the benefits of medical marijuana treatment and how to apply it.

“There is real value to be added from a medical perspective,” Caraballo said.

Under state rules, dispensaries must demonstrate adequate capital to meet facility plans and obligations, and licenses are not cheap – it costs $80,000 every two years for dispensaries to renew their certification.

Meantime, each licensee must pass a final inspection within six months once certification is approved, and every operation is mandated to provide the state detailed dispensing reports via the Ohio Automated Rx Reporting System in real-time to prevent the misappropriation of medical marijuana.

Holistic Health will staff a clinical director who is a licensed pharmacist. The clinical director is responsible for training employees, reviewing dispensing errors and acting as a clinical resource for employees. All employees will be required to wear a state-issued medical marijuana identification card while on duty.

Holistic Health Partners would use a model set by the state of Connecticut, Caraballo said. There, dispensaries are careful to engage in patient education and determine what product best benefits the patient. “It’s not going to be a retail store. No window shopping,” he said. “It will be run like a doctor’s office with patients in a waiting room.”

Should a license be awarded, Caraballo estimates that the new dispensary would, after four years of operation, employ three full-time pharmacists and five technicians.

Communities such as Canfield, Austintown and Boardman have elected not to allow medical marijuana businesses within their borders, leaving limited options for operations such as Holistic Health Partners.

Youngstown, on the other hand, has not placed a blanket restriction on locating a dispensary within the city. At a meeting Aug. 15, the city planning commission approved language that added medical marijuana dispensaries to the list of establishments under regulated uses.

Bill D’Avignon, former community development director who retired at the end of August, said that the amendment ensures that medical marijuana dispensaries would be relegated to traffic corridors such as South Avenue, Mahoning Avenue, Market Street and Belmont Avenue – not downtown or in residential areas.

“We regulate tattoo parlors. We should be doing it for this,” he said in August. “They would be permitted in the main corridors, but operate under a regulated use.”

Caraballo said he and his business partner live in the area, and Youngstown provides a great opportunity for this industry.

“Finding a location is a challenge, and we’re Youngstown-born and raised,” he said. “We want to do this right for the community.”

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.