Ohio Auditor Dave Yost on Wednesday again slammed the process by which medical marijuana cultivators were selected, but he said it's probably too late to change it.
The Ohio Department of Commerce has come in for repeated criticism regarding how it scored 109 applications to be large cultivators and how it awarded 12 provisional licenses.
The department awarded those licenses for grow operations of up to 24,000 square feet and 12 more for operations of up to 3,000 square feet. The state's medical marijuana statute requires that those businesses and processors and dispensers be licensed and running by September.
In his letter to Department of Commerce Director Jacqueline Williams, Yost recited some of those problems.
"The facts are not really in dispute," he wrote. "Unbeknownst to you, a convicted drug dealer was selected to play an integral part in designing your assessment process and in conducting a portion of it. When it was brought to light, the department's defense was that there was no statutory provision against it."
Yost also cited his office's finding that a security flaw allowed two commerce employees so much access to grower-evaluation records that they could make alterations undetected.
The Department of Commerce did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Tuesday, 20 would-be growers filed a lawsuit citing those and other criticisms. It's demanding that all large-grower licenses be invalidated and that the applications be reviewed again.
Jimmy Gould, who has a leading role in the litigation, said that if the legal action is successful, the state won't meet its September deadline, but he said it was unlikely to meet it anyway.
In his letter, Yost responded to an offer by Williams to "pause" the program while Yost's concerns are addressed.
"Unfortunately, the window to 'pause' has probably closed," Yost said. "Since December, recipients of provisional licenses, in reliance upon those licenses, have undertaken substantial investments. The intervening two months have further constricted the time available to reach the deadlines established by the General Assembly. Multiple lawsuits have been filed and more are contemplated. And of course, all Ohioans are waiting for this program to be implemented."
Meanwhile, state Sen. Bill Coley, a Republican who lives near Mason, has scheduled a press conference for Thursday to announce legislation that would require the state auditor to conduct and release a performance audit of the Medical Marijuana Control Program.
Marty Schladen is a reporter with The Columbus Dispatch.