COLUMBUS — One day after Ohio announced its choices for larger growing sites that would fuel a fledgling medical marijuana industry, a legal challenge was announced that could throw a wrench into the works.
Ironically, such a lawsuit would be filed by some of the chief players behind 2015’s failed ResponsibleOhio ballot initiative that would have legalized marijuana for both medical and recreational use.
“Whether we end up with a license or we don’t end up with a license, that’s not what this is about...” said Jimmy Gould, chairman and chief executive of CannAscend Ohio. “I care that this process is broken. I care that there should have been better oversight over this process, and I care where this ends up....
“They delayed it so long,” he said. “...Unless they’ve already been digging into the ground, which is a different issue, how are you going to dig into frozen ground in January and February and have product in stores and dispensaries by September of 2018? That’s near impossible.”
He said he suspects that the process was intentionally delayed in order to push the opening of a medical marijuana market in Ohio beyond the November, 2018 election, when governor and other statewide offices are on the ballot.
House Bill 523, the law legalizing medical marijuana, currently mandates the program be up and running by Sept. 8.
The lawsuit, which Mr. Gould said will be filed soon, seeks to preserve all records and communications used by the Department of Commerce in reviewing and scoring more than 100 applications received for larger-scale cultivator licenses.
On Thursday, the department announced its selection for 11 such licenses, including one in Gibsonburg. Standard Wellness Co. plans a growing facility in the village’s Clearview Industrial Park.
Standard’s application received a score of 161.28 points out of a potential 200 under the commerce department’s process. By comparison, CannAscend’s proposal for Wilmington scored 132.72 points and was among 73 deemed “disqualified” under the system.
These Level I cultivators may have operations of up to 25,000 square feet of growing space.
The department had already announced its choice of licensees for 12 smaller cultivators of up to 3,000 square feet. Ohio Grow LLC was selected for its proposed site at 367 E. State Line Rd., Toledo.
These growing facilities would be the first link in the supply chain to funnel various strains of cannabis to a laboratory that will test the product. Processors would then generate oils, patches, vapor, and other approved forms of the product, and ultimately neighborhood retail dispensaries would sell it to patients or their caregivers.
Any delay in getting the cultivators in operation at the front end could risk the state’s ability to meet the Sept. 8 deadline. Cultivators that have received preliminary license approvals are expected to have their businesses ready for state inspection and final license approval within nine months, a timeline that would already cut very close to Sept. 8.
Mary Jane Borden, treasurer of the Ohio Rights Group, said she doesn’t want to see a delay in implementing Ohio’s program. Without commenting on the merits of the lawsuit, she noted there could be opportunities after the program is operational to expand the number of growing facilities.
“Something that looked impossible 15 to 20 years ago, even five years ago, is now coming true,” she said. “The mere blessing of having a process to get a license to grow in the state of Ohio is absolutely remarkable.
“It’s tough to tell patients to wait once more,” Ms. Borden said. “We’ve heard this for decades now.... We’re tired of waiting. Let’s be sensitive to the people who really need this medicine.”
Among other things, the lawsuit is expected to accuse the department of treating applicants differently, allowing some to change or update their applications in mid-process while not offering the same opportunity to others. It will accuse the department of giving preliminary approval to applicants who had not fully complied with financial responsibility and criminal background check requirements.
It would ask a court to force an entirely new application process.
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