Ohio Auditor Dave Yost says it’s too late to hit the pause button on Ohio’s medical marijuana program despite mounting concerns about how state regulators graded cultivator license applications.
The Department of Commerce issued provisional cultivator licenses to 24 companies in November 2017. Yost’s office began examining the department’s scoring process following reports that the agency had hired a felon and consultants who had a possible conflict of interest with applicants to help score applications.
The department offered last week to “pause” any portion of the program Yost deemed necessary, Director Jacqueline Williams wrote in a letter to Yost.
Yost replied Wednesday: “Unfortunately, the window to ‘pause’ has probably closed.” Yost wrote in a letter to Williams that the provisional licensees have made “substantial investments” to build grow facilities and meet the obligations of the license.
Yost also noted the department has two fewer months now than in November to meet the law’s Sept. 8 deadline for the program to be operational, and patients have already been waiting almost two years for that start date.
“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,” Yost wrote.
He advised the department to seek the advice of Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine’s office, which will defend the department in lawsuits challenging the process. Two lawsuits have been filed, and 69 applicants have requested administrative hearings to appeal their scores.
The department did not immediately answer questions Wednesday afternoon about whether it planned to pause part or all of the program or why it sought Yost’s permission to stop licensing marijuana growers, testing labs and product manufacturers.
In December, Yost and other state officials advised the department to put the program on hold pending a full investigation of the scoring process. The department forged ahead.
On Feb. 12, Yost alerted the department to a security loophole that could have allowed two state employees to log in as scorers to an online application review portal and change scores or application materials. Yost told Ohio Public Radio’s Statehouse News Bureau that he would renew his call to freeze the program.
Three days later, the department admitted an employee’s scoring error prevented an applicant from receiving a license. Yost changed his mind over the weekend after thinking about the broad impact a freeze would have on patients and businesses, he said in an interview Wednesday.