- Laura A. Bischoff Columbus bureau
Just days after Ohio awarded a dozen companies licenses to grow medical marijuana, charges are being leveled that the scoring process was tainted and an investigation should be conducted.
Media reports revealed that iCann, a consulting company hired under $150,000 contract with the Ohio Department of Commerce to help score the applications, is led by a man with a 2005 criminal conviction in Pennsylvania for drug dealing. iCann has been paid $8,037 so far, according to OhioCheckbook.com.
“This is no way to start out a brand-new industry and department in our state,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat running for governor, in a written statement. “Such a gross oversight undermines any confidence Ohioans would have had in the system.”
Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican running for attorney general, said: “There is an epic fail here. When you’ve got a convicted drug dealer who is helping to make the decisions for the government on who gets a license, it’s questionable whether the thing is being done on the merits and by the numbers.”
Yost asked the commerce department to haul the entire process and conduct an independent review.
“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.
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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