Medical marijuana might not be available by Ohio's September deadline if a lawsuit filed Tuesday by 20 would-be growers is successful. One of the leaders in the litigation said marijuana was never going to be available by September, anyway.
"I don't think the patients are going to get what they need," said Jimmy Gould, who heads up CannAscend Ohio, an unsuccessful the applicant for one of 12 licenses for growing operations of up to 24,000 square feet. Gould helped lead the effort to pass a medical marijuana law in Ohio.
The 78-page lawsuit, filed in the Franklin County Court of Common Pleas, claims that the Ohio Department of Commerce violated its own policies when it awarded provisional licenses last year to grow marijuana. The legal action asks the court to revoke the licenses and prevent the department from issuing any operators' permits.
The licensing process for large cultivators has been marred by a "vast number of failed verifications, scoring errors, undisclosed conflicts of interest, and undisclosed loopholes in the security of information which provided certain department employees with access and opportunity to manipulate or otherwise modify any applicant's information," the suit says.
Gould said that at least five successful applicants didn't meet threshold requirements to get a provisional license. Some didn't have enough cash in the bank to meet liquidity requirements and others proposed to grow in buildings that are less than 500 feet from a prohibited structure such as a school. Others failed to meet either requirement, the suit says.
The suit says that when confronted with these discrepancies, the Department of Commerce "changed its story," allowing the companies nine months to correct any deficiencies.
Department spokeswoman Stephanie Gostomski said she couldn't comment on pending litigation.
In addition to the larger operations, the Commerce Department also has granted 12 provisional licenses for grow operations of up to 3,000 square feet. The state also is licensing processors and dispensers of medical marijuana.
Gould has been raising objections to the cultivator-selection process almost since provisional-licenses were announced. His company ran criminal background checks of those grading applications and found that one had a drug conviction on his record.
Gould also contends that the selection process has been rife with conflicts of interest and sloppy work, including errors of arithmetic.
"I worked so hard getting the law passed," he said. "I just never thought that this thing would run amok."
Ohio Auditor Dave Yost also found earlier this month that two Commerce employees had access to applications in manner that would have allowed them to alter the documents.
Gould said the lawsuit now is most likely headed for "discovery" — a legal process during which each side of a suit seeks evidence to build a case. But he's also asking Gov. John Kasich, Attorney General Mike DeWine and the General Assembly to pause Ohio's medical marijuana while the licensing process is reviewed.
"We're asking people to step up and stop it," he said.
Marty Schladen is a reporter with The Columbus Dispatch.