Fixing Ohio’s medical marijuana mess
CINCINNATI (WKRC) - A powerful Ohio lawmaker is now calling on the state to suspend its troubled medical marijuana program until all the problems are fixed.
Local 12's Duane Pohlman broke several stories about Ohio's marijuana mess, including a lawsuit that was filed last month claiming Ohio unfairly picked "who" could grow marijuana.
On Monday night, Duane's back with another exclusive.
Larry Householder is one of 132 state lawmakers, but he's a former, powerful Speaker of the House for two terms and wants to be speaker again.
Larry Householder says that Ohio's medical marijuana program has failed badly and that state leaders including the governor, have failed in their responsibility to fix it.
- DUANE POHLMAN: “So you want them to suspend, to pause the program?"
- HOUSEHOLDER: "That's correct."
- DUANE: “Because?"
- HOUSEHOLDER: “It's the right thing to do. When you have a system that is clearly flawed and it has failed, do you keep going on with that failed system or do you pause, suspend it?"
State Representative Larry Householder is familiar with leading Ohio through tough times.
Now, the state is facing dozens of appeals and a major lawsuit claiming Ohio's Commerce Department's handling of marijuana grow licenses was unfair, flawed and potentially illegal.
Householder says it's time for the state to hit the "pause" button.
“When you find yourself in a hole, you stop digging,” said Householder.
Representative householder's comments echo the concerns of the Ohio State Auditor Dave Yost, who talked with me exclusively about his investigation of the state's marijuana licensing program.
It looks at the very least that this was flawed enough that there wasn't a fair shake for everybody, and at the worst we may be in a situation that none of us want to think about happening. But the government may have been in a position where a thumb was on the scales somewhere.
Even though Attorney General Mike DeWine now represents the Department of Commerce in the lawsuit against the state, he admits he, too, is concerned.
“I think any taxpayer would be concerned about how this rollout that occurred. I don't really want to comment on the merits of the lawsuits but what I think the citizens of Ohio should know is this decision involving marijuana, there's a lot of money involved,” said DeWine.
And there are a lot of people with political connections who will make that money, including Chris Schrimpf.
He was a senior communications advisor for Ohio Governor John Kasich's presidential campaign and his brother Mike Schrimpf was Kasich's campaign communications director.
Chris has a 4.45 percent ownership share in Cresco labs Ohio, which got a license from the state. His brother Mike has a 3.95 percent share.
The co-founder of Cresco labs, Charlie Bechtel, issued a statement to Local 12’s Duane Pohlman after Duane asked whether those political connections influenced the licensing.
"Politics played no part in this very rigorous application process,” said Bechtel.
That may be, but political leadership, the former speaker says, is sorely lacking right now.
- HOUSEHOLDER: “We have the power over in the legislature to call a committee and bring these people in and question them in front of a committee.”
- DUANE: “Would you do it as the speaker?”
- HOUSEHOLDER: “I would do it in a heartbeat.”
And representative householder says it's critical that Governor John Kasich "step up" and own these problems and be Ohio's leader who will fix the marijuana program.
But so far, the governor has been silent about Ohio’s marijuana mess.