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Ohio State study: Medical marijuana dispensaries are more like bars than pharmacies

A new Ohio State University study appears to have confirmed something of a long-running joke: that someone doesn’t have to be sick to get medical marijuana.

Ohio State researchers examined four medical marijuana dispensaries in California and the information gathered showed that many of their customers do not fit the expected profile of a business serving sick patients.

Researchers found that some dispensaries attracted customers from outside their immediate area and that they appeared to target specific genders, ethnicity and age groups.

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Such characteristics are uncommon for a facility selling medical marijuana only to people with medical needs, according to OSU.

If dispensaries were only serving patients, they would be acting much more like pharmacies, said Bridget Freisthler, co-author of the study and a professor of social work at Ohio State. Instead, dispensaries are operating more like bars than pharmacies, according to the study.

“From a public health standpoint, it is concerning. While there has been speculation that medical dispensaries target recreational users, now we are starting to collect evidence that suggests this is true,” Freisthler said.

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Ohio State’s study of the four dispensaries was a pilot study for a larger research project that will examine the customers of 16 dispensaries in Los Angeles.

If the dispensaries’ customers were coming for medical purposes, they should be older than the average age the study found, researchers reported. The average age of customers was 28 to 32.

Overall, the results suggest policymakers should be careful when legalizing medical marijuana sales, Freisthler said.

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Ohio legalized medical marijuana last year when Gov. John Kasich signed a bill into law that authorizes use by patients with 21 conditions, including cancer or chronic pain, in the form of edibles, oils, patches and vaporizing. Patients and their caregivers will be allowed to possess up to a 90 day supply.

The Medical Marijuana Control Program is jointly managed by the commerce department, pharmacy board and state medical board. Marijuana remains an illegal drug under federal law.

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