The agency that oversees Ohio’s medical marijuana program admits there are problems with the scoring process used to grant medical marijuana growing licenses.
The Department of Commerce now says, in a letter to state Auditor Dave Yost, there were scoring errors in the process for determining which companies were awarded medical marijuana cultivators’ licenses. That admission was made in a letter from the head of the agency to Yost, who has been critical of the process for months now.
One problem Yost identified is that passwords were shared, so it is impossible to figure out who made changes within the system and when.
“The Commerce Department talks about how they had all of these different pieces done by all of these different people in a blind way that they were not collaborating,” Yost says. “The problem with this control failure on the passwords is that it could get around all of those things. And for that reason, we say that this process is unreliable.”
A written statement from the Department of Commerce says, due to an error, financial plans were downloaded twice, affecting 10 of the 110 applicants. This apparently resulted in the inadvertent exclusion of PharmaCann Ohio Inc. from the program, which was limited to 24 provisional licenses.
There’s no suggested solution from the department for that situation now, although the department says they’re researching how to proceed with 25 licenses, including PharmaCann
But other companies are blaming the scoring process and, in some cases, the scorers themselves.
Janet Brenneman’s Green Camp Provisions LLC was among the businesses turned down for a license. Brenneman says her group didn’t get points for key criteria because the scorers never had access to all of it.
“Nobody ever looked at an application from the beginning to the end,” Brenneman says. “They were just given sections to score.”
Brenneman was further incensed to find out some applicants were allowed to change locations of facilities after those documents were submitted. She says her group was told nothing could be changed after the application was turned in.
Brenneman says her company is appealing the decision. So is Andy Joseph with Ohio Grown Therapies LLC.
Like Brenneman, Joseph says he was confused as to why scorers gave his plan a zero in one section – a mistake he says could make a big difference.
“If that one particular section, if that one particular answer was a ‘yes’ instead of a ‘no,’ in just that one, we would have placed ninth,” Joseph says.
Joseph says if that happened, “there’s no question” his plan would have been approved.
In addition to appealing this decision, Joseph has also applied for processing and dispensary licenses that will be awarded sometime in the spring.
Perhaps the most vocal critic has been Jimmy Gould, a backer of Cann-Ascend, one of the groups that was denied a license.
“If we lost in a fair and balanced process, then we would accept that, but that’s not what happened,” Gould says.
Gould, who was involved in the failed 2015 marijuana ballot issue, is livid after discovering the state hired a man with a felony drug conviction to serve as one of the scorers. He also questions ties that man had with other applicants who did get licenses.
Gould is planning a lawsuit and also is involved with a group hoping to go back to the ballot for an all-out legalization of marijuana.
For now, Yost says the Department of Comerce needs to stop moving forward and investigate the problems he’s discovered.
“I called on the administration to tap the brakes on this and do a do-over, to reassess these applications and make sure the system was reliable,” Yost says. “I would renew that call. It makes more sense than ever to be sure that we do it right. If we don’t this thing could be tied up in court for years to come while people who need access to the pain relief and medical effects of medical cannabis are left waiting.”
In her letter to Yost, Commerce director Jacqueline Williams said her office is willing to pause any portion of the process that Yost deems adequate. But a do-over might not be so simple, since some companies awarded licenses have already broken ground and put money into their effort.
Cresco Labs, for one, already broke ground on a multi-million-dollar facility in Yellow Springs in December. At the time, company spokesman Charlie Bachtell praised Ohio for the way it handled the program.
“We couldn’t be happier to be part of this,” Bachtell said. “This was a very competitive and thorough application process. Again, going back to the way the state approached this from the beginning – they did everything right.”
A written statement from the Department of Commerce says it has a responsibility to ensure the most qualified applicants receive a provisional license. And it says the auditor will verify these findings as they are in the process of a full review.