Ohio Auditor Dave Yost called Wednesday for a suspension of the issuance of licenses to larger medical marijuana growers while his officials investigate whether the hiring of a drug dealer to score the applications affected the award of licenses.
“This is an epic failure. I am outraged,” Yost said while calling for the Ohio Department of Commerce to promptly investigate the matter, perhaps by calling in Inspector General Randall J. Meyer.
“The only proper course of action is to freeze the process, and independently review the evaluation and scoring from the ground up. And the administration needs to explain how this drug dealer ended up telling the government how to run its fledgling medical marijuana program,” he said.
The two-term Republican Yost, a former Delaware County prosecutor who is running for attorney general, said his staff is gathering information about those hired to review applications and whether any “hiring errors impacted the grading of the license applications.” But, the matter deserves attention in a more-rapid fashion than his office can deliver since it is bound by auditing standards, he said.
“We can’t wait for a rear-view mirror audit. The commerce department needs to act today before this train leaves the station.”
In a statement, Department of Commerce spokeswoman Stephanie Gostomski said on Wednesday: “This was a careful, fair process which we fully and extensively explained in advance and are glad to do again to anyone with questions or concerns.”
Yost said the medical marijuana program needs to resolve questions and proceed in a timely manner because “we have kids out there with epilepsy looking for relief.”
Yost’s attorney general opponent, Democrat Steve Dettelbach, also had called for a investigation, tweeting: “A convicted drug dealer was paid to help set up medical marijuana in Ohio! Did they think it was ‘relevant experience?!’ This needs to be thoroughly investigated.”
Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and Rep. Larry Householder, R-Glenford, also called for action Tuesday.
Taylor, who is running for governor, said in a statement that she is “outraged that a convicted drug dealer played a major role in determining who was suitable to receive a license. At a minimum, the integrity of the process has been called into question and it is unconscionable to imagine that this process would be allowed to continue until we have a full reckoning.”
State Rep. Larry Householder, a Republican from Glenford, said the state should “freeze the issuance of the medical-marijuana growers’ licenses until Ohioans can be assured this process has not been tainted.”
The controversy arose Tuesday when a company that failed to win a state license to grow medical marijuana criticized the state for hiring a man with a felony drug conviction to score the applications.
“The state of Ohio has a lot of explaining to do … they hired a convicted drug dealer for $150,000 to score applications for the Ohio medical-marijuana industry,” said Jimmy Gould, chairman of CannAscend Ohio, the rejected would-be cultivator.
“Did the Department of Commerce not think it important to check and report the fact that at least one of the scorers of the medical-marijuana control program had a criminal record for dealing drugs … did they require a background check to get a license, but not to give a license?” Gould asked in a statement.
Applicants to grow medical marijuana were required to undergo criminal background checks. But the state’s request for proposals, which led to contracts for Trevor Bozeman and two other scorers, did not make it a requirement to pass a criminal check for those scorers, records show.
Court records verified by The Dispatch show that a Trevor C. Bozeman was convicted of manufacturing, delivering and possessing drugs, with intent to manufacture or deliver, in Middleburg, Pennsylvania in 2005.
The records do not provide details of the offense. They also show misdemeanor charges of use and possession of drug paraphernalia and possession of a small amount of marijuana for personal use, which were dismissed.
Bozeman, now 33 and of Brunswick, Maine, paid $2,131 in fines and costs and was placed on probation for three years, which court records show he successfully completed.
Ohio incorporation papers show that a Trevor Bozeman formed iCann Consulting, with a Dublin residential address, in late 2016. The Sawmill Road address that the company lists is a mailbox at a United Parcel Service store.
The company was one of three to receive a $150,000 state contract in June to score applications submitted by those seeking licenses to grow medical marijuana on such factors as finances, operating plans and security. Paperwork that Bozeman filed with the state said he holds a doctorate in chemistry and had prior experience with marijuana-grow operations in California and had served as an adviser in other states.
Messages seeking comment from Bozeman were left Tuesday at two telephone numbers listed in his name. He did not respond.
Gostomski said iCann Consulting appeared to meet all the requirements to receive the state contract and its scoring appeared to be done professionally.
CannAscend’s bid to win a medical-marijuana cultivation contract for a Wilmington facility was rejected after it scored poorly in evaluations and failed to meet requirements, Gostomski said.
Gould said the situation reflected “significant irregularities” that should be investigated. He was a founder of ResponsibleOhio, the group behind the failed 2015 ballot campaign to legalize recreational marijuana.
“This is the start of a billion-dollar industry and the fact that the start is marred by arbitrary and capricious irregularities is troubling and deserves a thorough and deep review,” he said.
The state recently awarded licenses for both small and large medical-marijuana grow operations. Medical marijuana is expected to be available legally in Ohio in about a year.