“We are gathering information on whether it is susceptible to audit,” he said. “
Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, a Republican running for governor, issued a strong statement: “I demand that we take a step back and freeze the awarding of the licenses until all of the facts have come to light.”
But Ohio Department of Commerce spokeswoman Stephanie Gostomski defended the process, saying: “The applications were scored by more than 20 reviewers, none of whom had more influence than any of the others. The scores were determined on a consensus basis. It’s imperative to the integrity of the program to maintain uniformity moving forward, utilizing the same processes and reviewers. We’ve publicized these details from the beginning, but we are glad to brief anyone who hasn’t paid attention to it and wants to learn more.”
Last week, the commerce department announced 12 large-scale medical marijuana cultivator licenses — leaving 97 rejects, some of whom are complaining. A “sore losers” group met on Tuesday in Columbus, including Tony George, head of The George Group in Cuyahoga County.
Thomas George of The George Group and the company contributed a combined $260,000 in 2016 to Onward Ohio, a super PAC backing Taylor’s bid for governor. Tony George donated $12,700 — the individual maximum allowed by state law — to Taylor’s campaign in May. Taylor’s campaign spokesman Michael Duchesne said there is no connection between the contributions and her statement, though he did acknowledge that Taylor is close to Tony George.
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Jimmy Gould, chief executive of CannAscend, which did not receive a license, said license applicants had to submit to criminal background checks and yet scorers did not.
“This is the start of a billion dollar industry, and the fact that the start of it is marred by arbitrary and capricious irregularities is troubling, and deserves a thorough and deep review,” Gould said in a written statement.
Trevor Bozeman formed iCann Consulting in December 2016. In June 2017, the Ohio Controlling Board approved three consulting contracts, each for $150,000, for help scoring applications.
iCann, B&B Grow Solutions of Summit, Ill., and Meade & Wing of Tuscon, Ariz., were selected because they “demonstrated subject matter expertise in cultivation and/or processing of medical marijuana which will be critical to the scoring of applications submitted in Ohio,” the commerce department told the Controlling Board. The contracts run through June 30.
In 2015, backers of the statewide ballot issue to legalize marijuana also pushed the Fresh Start Act. That would’ve let anyone convicted of an offense that is no longer illegal — such as a non-violent marijuana conviction — to expunge their record.
Some of the same people backing the Fresh Start Act in 2015, which did not come to fruition, are now raising Bozeman’s conviction as an issue in the medical marijuana program.
Charlie Bachtell of Cresco Labs, which received a grower license for a site in Yellow Springs, praised the Ohio program, saying “We’ve been reviewing this program for about a year and I’ve never seen anything but the most thorough and engaged group of regulators that I’ve seen in any other programs around the country.”
Regarding Bozeman, Bachtell added “At the end of the day, if he is a subject matter expert, then he is a subject matter expert.”
Jeremy Unruh of PharmaCann, which did not receive a license in Ohio, said that his company was bumped out of contention when two economically disadvantaged firms were elevated as part of a set-aside. PharmaCann is assessing whether to challenge the set-aside but sees no reason to re-score the applications, he said.
“I think if they hit the pause button and potentially re-score these, then they’re opening up an even larger can of worms by doing that. No state has been successful — that has stopped its licensing process in its tracks and tried to do it over again,” Unruh said, noting that Ohio law allows the commerce department to add licenses beyond the initial 12. “You know, the second go around, has the challenges that the first go around has, plus additional challenges.
“Nobody is going to say, ‘Oh, phew, that second time around, they sure did it right. It’s just not going to happen.”
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