Getting any business or industry started is hard. Things get even more difficult when that industry was previously illegal.

Ohio is still grappling with propping up a medical marijuana program from scratch, and learning that the unlawful nature of the industry makes it increasingly difficult to find experienced and prepared business partners for the various components that make up the complex and evolving program.

That struggle was highlighted Thursday when the advisory committee tasked with seeing the state’s medical marijuana program to the finish line — in this case the ever elusive start date — discussed the dearth of processors and cultivators prepared to move forward.

Last Friday, the state announced that only 7 of 104 applicants to process medical cannabis and turn it into products such as oils and edibles had met the minimum requirements and were given licenses. There was supposed to be up to 40 processors approved, but Mark Hamlin, the senior policy adviser for the Ohio Department of Commerce, said too few applicants had prior experience and the necessary skills required.

“The criteria revolves a lot around experience. Both experience in the business but also experience manufacturing either specifically medical marijuana or some sort of horticulture products,” Hamlin said. Six more processors could still receive provisional licenses, pending tax and background checks.

Hamlin’s assessment of the initial processors and cultivators struggling to get product ready for patients is the latest example of how difficult it can be for businesses to meet state regulations without comprehensive understanding of the state’s regulatory framework.

When pressed by a committee member, Hamlin said product will be ready before 2019 — or at least that is what he was told by Buckeye Relief LLC, the first large-scale grower to plant cannabis in the state.

“We don’t know exact dates, but many of our cultivators anticipate having product by the end of the year,” he said. The original deadline of Sept. 8 "is a really important date and always was, but it also always was a milestone. … We have always worked towards the longer-term vision in this as well.”

To date, three of the 26 cultivators approved to grow cannabis have passed inspections and given permission to begin planting seeds. At least five inspections for growers are scheduled for August.

Meanwhile, more physicians were approved this week to recommend medical marijuana to patients. The 38 physicians certified by the state medical board now brings the total to 222. Though the number grows monthly, it is still well below the amount needed to serve an estimated 200,000 prospective patients. State officials say the program will start with fewer patients and more physicians will sign on as the program evolves.

Generally, the physicians are clustered near population centers, raising concerns from the advisory committee that patients would have to drive too far, in some cases more than 25 miles, to find a doctor who could recommend.

While more physicians get approved and the program start date gets pushed back, the online patient registry portal has been put on hold because product won’t be ready come September.

Patient advocate and advisory board member Bob Bridges questioned the lack of education and public service announcements to get the patient population up to speed on program updates as the program drags on.

“I hear you talk about training and making sure employees and dispensaries understand what is going on, but the general public knows nothing,” he said. “Can we do some PSA’s?”

Both state officials tasked with getting the program up and running and advisory committee members see an opportunity for additional information provided to not only the prospective patients, but also the businesses attempting to enter the budding cannabis industry in the Buckeye state.