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Medical marijuana patients go to third-party websites for information

Patients in Ohio’s medical marijuana program say the information they find on legal marijuana dispensaries, cannabis products and prices come not from the state government or marijuana industry, but from a series of third-party websites run mostly by out-of-state companies.

Sites such as WeedMapsLeafly and IHeartJane boast directories of places to buy medicinal cannabis. They aren’t all the same; Leafly, for example, offers reviews of specific products and strains of marijuana. IHeartJane lets users search for reviews of specific brands and patients can filter dispensaries to find those owned by veterans or members of minority groups. But all of the sites provide a clearinghouse for information on marijuana products.

The cannabis-focused media site OhioCannabis.com includes a list of Ohio dispensaries along with news and other information about the industry. The site also includes a directory of doctors who write marijuana recommendations and a ratings system for dispensaries.

“That's what I've done since the beginning is be a resource for patients,” OhioCannabis.com founder Johnny Lutz said.

The sites “serve a purpose since dispensary menus often do not provide details like THC/CBD content,” Mary Jane Borden, co-founder of the cannabis advocacy organization Ohio Rights Group, said in an email.

Though some patients find such resources useful, other marijuana card holders complain that information listed on third-party sites is sometimes out of date. The sites are largely unregulated by state agencies, but the information provided by Ohio companies still needs to follow the state’s strict advertising rules. Third-party sites also have been accused of promoting black-market marijuana operations, although they have pledged to stop.

Patients say they have found specific products listed on dispensary menus posted on third-party sites, but then visited those dispensaries to find those products sold out.

“It is not listed on a real-time basis,” said Angelica Warren, a medical marijuana card holder and activist who lives in Westerville. “If a dispensary runs out of a product, it will still show it on the menu as available.”

Borden agreed with that assessment.

“A product could be shown as available, which isn’t, likely because dispensaries change their menus daily,” she said

Travis Rexroad, director of communications for the Irvine, California-based WeedMaps, disputed the notion that menus on the website are out of date. The site has software that lets dispensaries update menus in real time, he said, though he did acknowledge that some might not have the right software to keep their menus updated and accurate.

Socrates Rosenfeld, co-founder of the Santa Cruz, California-based IHeartJane, said his site has special software it developed specifically to ensure that the products listed on the site are up to date.

"That is a valid concern, and to be quite honest, that's what inspired us at IHeartJane to build what we've built," he said.

Brian Wingfield owns the Ohio Cannabis Company dispensary in Coshocton, which lists its menu and prices on WeedMaps. The dispensary updates the information posted there several times a day, he said.

“So it does have the most accurate and updated information,” Wingfield said.

In at least one instance, state regulators admonished an Ohio company for a post on a third-party site.

On May 13, 2019, the Buckeye Botanicals dispensary in Jackson posted an advertisement on WeedMaps about availability of specific products. The ad also listed the contact information for an employee.

The Ohio Board of Pharmacy, which regulates dispensaries, sent Buckeye Botanicals a message stating the ad was not approved by state regulators, and the ad encouraged online interaction between patients and dispensary employees, which violates state law.

The pharmacy board directed Buckeye Botanicals to take corrective action and warned the company not to post such ads in the future.

A representative of Buckeye Botanicals did not respond to a message seeking comment about the state’s warning.

The Ohio Cannabis Company recently started working with WeedMaps.

“We're mandated by the Ohio administrative code to publish our menu and prices,” Wingfield said. “What the pharmacy board allowed was for us to put our information on that site.”

Wingfield is confident that his prices are lower than most other dispensaries, and listing his prices on WeedMaps lets patients see that, he said. The site also gives his dispensary a larger online footprint.

“It tends to be that more people use WeedMaps than the other sites,” he said.

Third-party directories are as old as the legal marijuana industry, and have at times been the subject of controversy.

WeedMaps, for example, once featured ads for unlicensed dispensaries.

Under pressure from regulators in California, the site agreed last summer to remove those ads and ban content from unlicensed sellers.

Leafly made a similar pledge in 2018.

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