EXCLUSIVE: State auditor talks about Ohio's marijuana mess
CINCINNATI (WKRC) - Ohio Auditor Dave Yost says the state's marijuana grow licensing process was an "epic fail".
Ohio handed out 24 marijuana grow licenses, but records already show there were problems in picking the winners and losers.
Local 12's Investigative Reporter Duane Pohlman sat down in a rare, one-on-one interview with Yost to find out how he's going to investigate what went wrong.
It's next to impossible to get the state auditor to talk about a continuing investigation, let alone the highest profile case in Ohio right now, but that's exactly what Duane did.
While it's not clear whether Ohio’s epic failure of medical marijuana was a mistake or something more, Yost is already saying that the licensing process was so bad that it may change the way Ohio handles all future contracts.
DUANE: “How concerned are you about what is happening here?”
YOST: “You know, I’m concerned any time the government doesn't do its job.”
Ohio Auditor Dave Yost is at the tip of a spear, leading the investigation into what went wrong with Ohio’s process of picking "who" will grow medical marijuana.
“They got into people's applications. They knew exactly who they were looking at,” said Jimmy Gould.
On Friday, Jimmy Gould, co-owner of Cannascend Ohio, which didn't get a license and is now suing the state, laid out a laundry list of alleged wrongdoing and unfair scoring and made it clear he thinks his company was targeted.
“I am asked the question repeatedly whether or not we were a target to be excluded from getting a license. I can answer this question and I’ll answer it very directly, there's no question in my mind that we were,” said Gould.
DUANE: “You called it an “epic fail” and “shoddy”. Do you believe that in the end, that is what we're dealing with?
YOST: “Well, sure you can't look at the record to this point and conclude that it was a success.”
That record, as Yost noted in a February 21st letter to the Director of Commerce, includes "a convicted drug dealer who played an "integral part in designing (the) Process", as well as a basic, "scoring error impacting ten applications."
“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,” said Yost.
DUANE: “Are you concerned that it may lead to criminality?”
YOST: “So, look, we are just like a police agency, we don't have the ability to prosecute a case all we can do is like the city police department can do, which is take the prosecution package down to the county prosecutor and say here's what we think happened, here's the evidence and then they get to evaluate it.”
While that is a long way off, Yost says wherever the investigation takes him he already wants to develop a process to make sure the mistakes made in the marijuana program never happens anywhere in Ohio again.
“Because I don't ever want to see a group of Ohioans held hostage to a bad process like this again,” said Yost.
One big issue Yost is facing right now is the same one Local 12’s Duane Pohlman is, a lack of documentation about how the applications were handled and who had access to the passwords to make changes.
Duane is continuing to investigate and he will have much more on Ohio’s marijuana mess before the end of the week.
Butler County’s State Senator Bill Coley introduced a bill last week, giving full authority to Yost to investigate and freezing the entire marijuana program until that investigation is complete.