Ohio Medical Marijuana Growers Form Coalition To Lobby On Behalf Of License Winners

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Companies awarded licenses to grow medical marijuana in Ohio are banding together and hiring a Columbus law firm to push back on critics of the licensing process and ensure the state’s new program is successful.

The companies have formed the Ohio Medical Marijuana License Holder Coalition, a trade association that will represent the interests of companies awarded licenses by the state to cultivate, process and dispense medical marijuana on legislative, compliance and enforcement issues.

The Ohio Department of Commerce awarded 24 provisional cultivator licenses in November. Since then, the license application scoring process has come under fire from elected officials and losing applicants for scoring errors and possible conflicts of interest between application reviewers and license winners.

A lawsuit filed by six unsuccessful companies against the department seeks to stop the program and re-score applications, which could further delay the program’s start date for patients. The CEO of one of those companies, Jimmy Gould of CannAscend Ohio LLC, has accused the department of rigging the process against him and claimed the winning companies won’t be able to provide enough quality product for patients.

“There are special interests out there that are seeking for their own self interest to delay this or destroy the program as it’s set up and that’s just going to cause the patients to wait longer to get the products that they need,” coalition spokesman Alex Thomas said in an interview.

Companies hired Thomas and Matt Borges, lobbyists with Columbus law firm Roetzel & Andress, to set up the organization. Thomas is a former aide to Gov. John Kasich and was a registered lobbyist for the Kasich administration until December 2017, according to state records. Borges, a Kasich ally and former Ohio Republican Party chairman, previously represented a medical marijuana company that was not chosen for a cultivator license.

Members met Monday in Columbus to form the organization and discuss legislation and regulation they’d like to see enacted. Thomas said they have not yet set up a board of directors or decided what policy changes they support.

“We’re interested in doing and pursing whatever it takes to get this product to patients on time as they were promised,” Thomas said.

The Department of Commerce has defended the scoring process, which evaluated applications without company names and other identifiable information attached. Agency Director Jacqueline Williams offered to pause the program after Auditor Dave Yost’s office found a security loophole that could have allowed state employees to change application scores and other materials.

Yost, who had urged the department to freeze the process in December, said it was too late to pause the program now and the “sufficiently flawed” process will be remedied in court. The agency decided to continue awarding final licenses to growers, which are needed to start growing plants, and provisional licenses for testing labs and marijuana product manufacturers.

John Vavalo of Terradiol Ohio LLC, which plans to grow marijuana in Canton, said it was important to have a structured organization to assist with Ohio’s compliance-driven industry.

“This coalition will work together with a singular voice and goal — providing safe and regulated medical marijuana to qualified patients across Ohio,” Vavalo said.