State auditor: Drug dealer scored applications for Ohio pot sites

Published: Wednesday, December 06, 2017 @ 11:48 AM

State auditor calls marijuana awards “epic fail”

Just days after Ohio awarded a dozen companies licenses to grow medical marijuana, charges are being leveled that the scoring process was tainted and an investigation should be conducted.

Media reports revealed that iCann, a consulting company hired under $150,000 contract with the Ohio Department of Commerce to help score the applications, is led by a man with a 2005 criminal conviction in Pennsylvania for drug dealing. iCann has been paid $8,037 so far, according to OhioCheckbook.com.

“This is no way to start out a brand-new industry and department in our state,” said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat running for governor, in a written statement. “Such a gross oversight undermines any confidence Ohioans would have had in the system.”

Ohio Auditor Dave Yost, a Republican running for attorney general, said: “There is an epic fail here. When you’ve got a convicted drug dealer who is helping to make the decisions for the government on who gets a license, it’s questionable whether the thing is being done on the merits and by the numbers.”

RELATED: Ohio’s medical marijuana users won’t be able to use guns

Yost asked the commerce department to haul the entire process and conduct an independent review.

“We are gathering information on whether it is susceptible to audit,” he said. “

Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, a Republican running for governor, issued a strong statement: “I demand that we take a step back and freeze the awarding of the licenses until all of the facts have come to light.”

But Ohio Department of Commerce spokeswoman Stephanie Gostomski defended the process, saying: “The applications were scored by more than 20 reviewers, none of whom had more influence than any of the others. The scores were determined on a consensus basis. It’s imperative to the integrity of the program to maintain uniformity moving forward, utilizing the same processes and reviewers. We’ve publicized these details from the beginning, but we are glad to brief anyone who hasn’t paid attention to it and wants to learn more.”

Last week, the commerce department announced 12 large-scale medical marijuana cultivator licenses — leaving 97 rejects, some of whom are complaining. A “sore losers” group met on Tuesday in Columbus, including Tony George, head of The George Group in Cuyahoga County.

Thomas George of The George Group and the company contributed a combined $260,000 in 2016 to Onward Ohio, a super PAC backing Taylor’s bid for governor. Tony George donated $12,700 — the individual maximum allowed by state law — to Taylor’s campaign in May. Taylor’s campaign spokesman Michael Duchesne said there is no connection between the contributions and her statement, though he did acknowledge that Taylor is close to Tony George.

RELATED: What’s next in Ohio’s medical marijuana program?

Jimmy Gould, chief executive of CannAscend, which did not receive a license, said license applicants had to submit to criminal background checks and yet scorers did not.

“This is the start of a billion dollar industry, and the fact that the start of it is marred by arbitrary and capricious irregularities is troubling, and deserves a thorough and deep review,” Gould said in a written statement.

Trevor Bozeman formed iCann Consulting in December 2016. In June 2017, the Ohio Controlling Board approved three consulting contracts, each for $150,000, for help scoring applications.

iCann, B&B Grow Solutions of Summit, Ill., and Meade & Wing of Tuscon, Ariz., were selected because they “demonstrated subject matter expertise in cultivation and/or processing of medical marijuana which will be critical to the scoring of applications submitted in Ohio,” the commerce department told the Controlling Board. The contracts run through June 30.

In 2015, backers of the statewide ballot issue to legalize marijuana also pushed the Fresh Start Act. That would’ve let anyone convicted of an offense that is no longer illegal — such as a non-violent marijuana conviction — to expunge their record.

Some of the same people backing the Fresh Start Act in 2015, which did not come to fruition, are now raising Bozeman’s conviction as an issue in the medical marijuana program.

Charlie Bachtell of Cresco Labs, which received a grower license for a site in Yellow Springs, praised the Ohio program, saying “We’ve been reviewing this program for about a year and I’ve never seen anything but the most thorough and engaged group of regulators that I’ve seen in any other programs around the country.”

Regarding Bozeman, Bachtell added “At the end of the day, if he is a subject matter expert, then he is a subject matter expert.”

Jeremy Unruh of PharmaCann, which did not receive a license in Ohio, said that his company was bumped out of contention when two economically disadvantaged firms were elevated as part of a set-aside. PharmaCann is assessing whether to challenge the set-aside but sees no reason to re-score the applications, he said.

“I think if they hit the pause button and potentially re-score these, then they’re opening up an even larger can of worms by doing that. No state has been successful — that has stopped its licensing process in its tracks and tried to do it over again,” Unruh said, noting that Ohio law allows the commerce department to add licenses beyond the initial 12. “You know, the second go around, has the challenges that the first go around has, plus additional challenges.

“Nobody is going to say, ‘Oh, phew, that second time around, they sure did it right. It’s just not going to happen.”

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Kucinich launches governor bid; is in area today

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 11:36 AM
Updated: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 7:47 PM

Kucinich says he can win race for governor

Former U.S. Rep. Dennis Kucinich today announced he will join the crowded Democratic field in the 2018 race for Ohio governor.

Kucinich, a former mayor of Cleveland, made it official at a rally in Middleburg Heights in Cuyahoga County.

He pledged to focus on fighting poverty and violence and to promote economic opportunity the arts and education, according to the Associated Press.

Later he traveled to Columbus and then spoke to the South Dayton Democratic Club at the West Carrollton branch of the Dayton Metro Library.

“I could win this election. I may be the only Democrat who can win because I have the ability to reach out, because I don’t polarize. Because I know the aspirations of people without regard to party,” Kucinich said during an interview at the library.

He’ll continue the launch tour Thursday with stops in Cincinnati and Toledo.

Kucinich, who ran unsuccessfully for president in 2004 and 2008, appeared this morning on Fox News’ “Fox & Friends,” and said he believes he can attract people who voted for President Donald Trump.

RELATED: Ex-Congressman Dennis Kucinich to launch bid for governor

“I can reach out to the people who voted for President Trump,” he said. “I can show them that there are Democrats who stand solidly for economic progress, who want to protect our markets, who want to stand up for everyday Americans.”

Kucinich, 71, lost his congressional seat in 2012 to U.S. Rep. Marcy Kaptur, D-Toledo, after the Republican redistricting of 2011 put the two Democrats in the same district. He enters the governor’s race relatively late but has been traveling the state over the last year denouncing public funding for charter schools and in support of state Issue 2, the prescription drug ballot issue that failed in November.

RELATED: Kucinich goes after charter schools in Dayton area visit

With the Feb. 7 filing deadline for the May 8 primary approaching, the Democratic and Republican fields are solidifying.

Last week Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley withdrew from the Democratic primary and threw her support behind Richard Cordray, former director of the U.S. Consumer Financial Protection Bureau and a former Ohio treasurer and attorney general. Cordray’s running mate is former U.S. Rep. Betty Sutton of Akron.

Richard Cordray and Betty Sutton

RELATED: Dayton Mayor Whaley drops out of governor’s race

Also in the race are former state representative Connie Pillich of Cincinnati, who has not picked a running mate; state Sen. Joe Schiavoni of Boardman, who is running with Ohio Board of Education member Stephanie Dodd; and Ohio Supreme Court Justice Bill O’Neill, whose running mate is Chantelle E. Lewis, a Lorain elementary school principal.

RELATED: O’Neill’s boast of sexual liaisons brings calls for his resignation

Mike DeWine and Jon Husted

The ballot is less crowded on the Republican side where Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine and his running mate, Secretary of State Jon Husted, are opposed by Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor and running mate Nathan Estruth, a Cincinnati businessman.

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LGBT bill picks up support in Ohio

Published: Wednesday, January 17, 2018 @ 4:05 PM


            State Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, says advocates for gay rights have pushed bills for nearly a decade to protect LGBT Ohioans against discrimination in housing and jobs. She thinks a bill this session may stand a chance. LAURA A. BISCHOFF/PHOTO
            Laura A. Bischoff
State Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, says advocates for gay rights have pushed bills for nearly a decade to protect LGBT Ohioans against discrimination in housing and jobs. She thinks a bill this session may stand a chance. LAURA A. BISCHOFF/PHOTO(Laura A. Bischoff)

For nearly 10 years, advocates for gay rights have pushed for legal changes that would protect LGBT Ohioans from discrimination in housing, jobs and places of public accommodation, but in each legislative session the efforts have stalled.

State Rep. Nickie Antonio, D-Lakewood, said this time around, though, the Ohio Chamber of Commerce is backing the bill, giving her hope that it’s an idea whose time has come.

“Ohio should join the 21st century. It’s time, more than time — and protect all of her people, including those from the LBGT community. Passing House Bill 160 would be a great step forward. It would be good for business, Ohio’s economy and also, it’s the right thing to do,” said Antonio.

Related: Kasich to GOP: Get out of the 1980’s

She noted that the Ohio Chamber of Commerce and businesses have pledged to testify in favor of the bill later this month.

The push for House Bill 160 comes at the same time the Human Rights Campaign released a state-by-state report on laws and policies that affect individuals who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, or transgender.

Sarah Warbelow, legal director for HRC, said the report grades states on what basic protections it provides residents and visitors when it comes to employment, housing, hate crimes, services to youths in foster care, bans on conversion therapy and other issues.

Ohio is among 28 states lacking non-discrimination protections for LGBT people in housing, employment and places of public accommodation, the report says. House Bill 160 would change the Ohio Civil Rights Law to add these protections and preserve all religious exemptions in current law, Antonio said.

Related: Does Ohio need a law protecting religious freedom?

The bill is backed by Ohio Business Competes, a coalition of some 300 businesses that support the changes.

While some employers and local communities have non-discrimination policies, Antonio said it’s time for a statewide law.

“Your ZIP Code should not determine whether you have equal rights and protections,” she said. “We should live in a state where someone can work in one community but decide to buy a home in another community and not look into their policies to find out whether or not their family will be welcome there. Come on, we can do better.”

Jordan: Clinton, not Trump, sought Russia help to influence election

Published: Monday, January 15, 2018 @ 11:50 AM
Updated: Monday, January 15, 2018 @ 11:50 AM

Jim Jordan on WHIO

Rep. Jim Jordan has emerged as a top defender of President Donald Trump as the Justice Department’s Russia investigation continues, leading some to wonder if the GOP insurgent known for causing heartburn to the party establishment has become a surrogate for the president.

For Jordan, it’s very straightforward: He says it was the Hillary Clinton campaign — not the Trump campaign — that worked with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election, namely by paying for the compilation of a dossier meant to embarrass Trump. Former FBI director James Comey testified in June that some of the information in that dossier was “salacious and unverified,” but Jordan argues that the FBI nonetheless used it to obtain warrants to spy on Trump campaign officials.

RELATED: Jordan, Davidson at odds with GOP over spy bill

He began questioning the investigation by Special Counsel Robert Mueller last month, spurring headlines when he told Fox News that “everything points to the fact that there was an orchestrated plan to try to prevent Donald Trump from becoming the next president of the United States.”

He amplified those comments in January, publishing a piece with Rep. Mark Meadows, R-N.C., in the Washington Examiner that urged Attorney General Jeff Sessions to step down because of Justice Department leaks regarding the case.

Jordan has been so upfront with his criticism of the Russia investigation that CNN host John Berman, in a recent interview with Jordan, asked him if he was coordinating talking points with the White House.

“Of course not,” Jordan said.

‘Key moment in history’

Whether Jordan is motivated by the dedication of a dogged true believer or whether he’s doing it to get in good graces with the Trump administration has stirred plenty of debate.

A Capitol Hill Republican who declined to be named so he could speak candidly said Jordan’s criticism of the investigation is part of a larger effort aimed at positioning the Freedom Caucus, led by Jordan, for a leadership role in the next Congress.

“This whole mop-up duty for the president is jockeying for the next Congress and leadership,” he said.

REALTED: Ex Speaker Boehner goes off on Jordan

But others say Jordan’s full-throated criticism of the investigation comes from sincerity.

“If I know anything about Jim Jordan, it’s that he sticks to his guns, sticks to his principles,” said former Ohio GOP chairman Matt Borges, who has been a critic of Trump. “I think he says that stuff because he believes it.”

Democrats accuse Jordan of serving as a surrogate for Trump.

“This will be his legacy,” Ohio Democratic Party Chairman David Pepper said. “This is a key moment in history. We know another government interfered with our election and he was one of the congressmen working to stop the American people from knowing what happened…we all should want answers to what happened.”

Jordan: ‘You cannot do that in America’

In an interview, Jordan defending his recent statements, saying the Russia investigation was started under flawed circumstances. He has worked to point out problems with the investigation, including the fact that the FBI began its investigation based on a dossier compiled out of research paid for by the Clinton campaign.

“If the FBI took an opposition research document that was unsubstantiated, that was paid for by the Clinton campaign and dressed it up like legitimate intelligence — you cannot do that in America,” he said.

Jordan said he is also concerned about text messages exchanged by two top FBI officers who were having an extramarital affair. One of the officers, Peter Strzock, ran both the investigation of whether Clinton downloaded classified information on her personal email server as well as the investigation into whether the Trump campaign colluded with Russia during the campaign.

Strzock last year was removed from the Russia probe over the text messages, one of which called the possibility of a Trump victory “terrifying” and another referring to an “insurance policy” in case he was elected.

Jordan said he thinks the “insurance policy” Strzock referred to was the dossier.

Sounding much like Trump himself, who accused Strzock of treason last week, Jordan said: “To date, we have not one bit of evidence that shows there was coordination between the Trump campaign and Russia to influence the election. But we have hard facts that say the Clinton campaign paid Russia to do what? Influence the election — to gather material to influence the election” in Clinton’s favor.

Frequent critic

This is far from the first time Jordan has become entrenched in a controversial congressional investigation, or fired spears at the opposition party. He was a key critic of accusations that the IRS unfairly denied tax-exempt status to tea party organizations, and he was among the most vocal on the 2015 House investigation of 2012 attacks on an embassy in Benghazi, Libya.

Rep. Warren Davidson, a Troy Republican who is a close ally of Jordan’s, dismisses the notion that Jordan’s investigations are partisan, saying he has been equally hard on GOP Attorney General Jeff Sessions as he was on Obama attorney generals Loretta Lynch and Eric Holder.

“It seems like that this is an investigation about Trump, and in reality, the purpose of this investigation is to understand how Russia tried to influence our elections,” Davidson said.

Meadows, chairman of the conservative House Freedom Caucus, which Jordan helped found, said Jordan “believes the government should be there to serve the people but not pick winners and losers…he’s been consistent with trying to make sure he holds the government accountable.”

But Pepper described a different Jordan, one who “is literally buying into the most extreme of the conspiracy theories.”

“It’s one thing just to have that opinion,” he said. “But that’s not just his opinion. He’s actively involved in very concrete ways to being a roadblock to an investigation of something serious.”

Local Republicans Jordan, Davidson at odds with party over spy bill

Published: Friday, January 12, 2018 @ 7:05 PM
Updated: Friday, January 12, 2018 @ 7:05 PM

Congressmen Warren Davidson and Jim Jordan
Congressmen Warren Davidson and Jim Jordan

When the Republican-controlled U.S. House this week approved an extension of a National Security Agency program that permits the agency to monitor phone calls and e-mails between foreigners abroad and Americans, local Republicans Warren Davidson of Troy and Jim Jordan of Urbana were among the 164 lawmakers to vote no.

RELATED: House OKs spy program after conflicting Trump tweets

They were also the only two Ohio Republicans to oppose the measure. That put Jordan and Davidson in unusual company, aligned with liberal Democrats.

The bill, which now goes to the Senate where passage is expected..

Opponents say the measure risks the civil liberties of Americans while backers insist the NSA needs the authority to prevent future terrorist attacks. The bill extends a law originally approved in the aftermath of the September 11, 2001, terrorist attacks in New York and suburban Washington.

In a floor speech during the debate, Davidson said “the foreign enemies of our country are not subject to the protections of our Constitution. American citizens, however are.”

He accused the bill’s backers of ignoring the Fourth Amendment, which protects Americans against unreasonable searches and seizures. “It is your data that is at subject here,” Davidson said. “The Fourth Amendment does not change when communications shift from postal service … to a data base.”

The two Ohio Republicans supported an amendment that would have forced the federal government to seek a warrant before searching data for information on Americans. Fifty-six other Republicans joined Jordan and Davidson, but a coalition of 178 Republicans and 55 Democrats defeated the amendment.

The House then voted 256-to-164 to pass the overall bill.