Tuesday, Sep 18, 2018
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Lawmaker seeks pause to fix medical marijuana flaws

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    Glass City Alternatives secured a special use permit to use this building at 3209 W. Sylvania Ave. in Toledo to sell medical marijuana.

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  • House-Bill-Coley-1

    Rep. Bill Coley (R-West Chester)

  • Ohio-Auditor-Debate-3

    Dave Yost


COLUMBUS — A new bill would block Ohio’s award of final licenses for medical marijuana growing facilities, processors, and testers while it fixes flaws with the way it has scored applications.

OBJECTBut the bill, introduced by Sen. Bill Coley (R., West Chester), would not push back the Sept. 8 deadline set in law for the program to be in full operation.

“As a human endeavor, there’s going to be mistakes made ...” Mr. Coley said. “The question in somebody’s character is what do you do when you find out about it.”

The bill would make it clear that the Department of Commerce may put its process on pause as state Auditor Dave Yost is given 30 days to complete his review of the process. Commerce would then have 30 days to make any fixes, including potentially going back and rescoring applications for which provisional licenses have already been issued.

The Department of Commerce’s licensing process has come under fire from multiple directions. Some of entities denied potentially lucrative licenses to grow the cannabis to fuel the fledgling industry have sued and threatened to go to the ballot this fall.

Someone with a criminal drug record was found to have participated as a consultant in reviewing and scoring applications for cultivator licenses. Unrelated scoring errors inadvertently cost a qualified applicant a license.

OBJECTAnd Mr. Yost, a Republican candidate for attorney general, has raised questions as to whether the sharing of software passwords may have compromised the integrity of the process.

Mr. Coley suggested the General Assembly should have played a bigger role in spelling out how such processes would work rather than leave it to government agencies to figure out.

“I think we made it pretty abundantly clear when we passed the law that no one who has a felony can get a license,” he said. “In fact, nobody who has a felony can even work for somebody who has a license. But the director said, ‘Well, you didn’t say I couldn’t retain a felon to help design the system and score the applications.’”

Commerce has continued to move ahead with plans to have the program in operation by the deadline set out in House Bill 523, the law that legalized marijuana for the first time for medicinal use only. The department said it is reviewing the bill’s language.

In many cases, cultivators who earned provisional licenses have broken ground on their growing facilities. Nothing in the bill would guarantee that someone granted a provisional license after the first round of scoring would keep it.

In a letter to Commerce this week, Mr. Yost suggested that any window to “pause” the program had probably passed.

“Weighing the multiple process flaws against the harms caused by ‘pausing’ the program at this late date seems to me to favor allowing the program to move forward and allowing the program flaws to be addressed through the administrative appeals process, or other litigation,” he wrote.

Thomas Rosenberger, executive director of the National Cannabis Industry Association of Ohio, said Mr. Coley’s bill would result in a delay in the program that Mr. Yost sought to avoid.

“He did not want to prolong patient suffering by putting Ohio's Medical Marijuana Control Program on hold while he completes his audit,” Mr. Rosenberger said. “Senate Bill 264 would do just that by delaying the issuance of certificates of operation for months."

Ohio’s medical marijuana program prohibits smoking and home-growing marijuana. Patients with specific medical conditions spelled out under the law, as diagnosed by a physician certified by the state, may purchase and consume cannabis only in vapor, oil, patch, tincture, edible, and plant-matter form.

While use of medical marijuana in such forms is now legal, pot can still not be legally produced or purchased in Ohio.

Contact Jim Provance at jprovance@theblade.com or 614-221-0496.

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