Medical marijuana launches in Maryland: What’s it mean for Ohio?

Published: Friday, December 29, 2017 @ 9:13 AM
Updated: Friday, December 29, 2017 @ 9:13 AM

Phil Goldberg, CEO of Green Leaf Medical in Frederick, Md., ran an ad agency and side businesses before turning his attention to medical cannabis four years ago. He said he became a true believer after working with cancer patients fighting to legalize medical cannabis in Maryland. Many of them died before they saw their dream become a reality, he said. JESSICA WEHRMAN/PHOTO
Phil Goldberg, CEO of Green Leaf Medical in Frederick, Md., ran an ad agency and side businesses before turning his attention to medical cannabis four years ago. He said he became a true believer after working with cancer patients fighting to legalize medical cannabis in Maryland. Many of them died before they saw their dream become a reality, he said. JESSICA WEHRMAN/PHOTO

From the outside, the building is nondescript, your typical medical office nestled near an acupuncturist, a doctor’s office and steps from a CVS pharmacy.

From the inside, however, Bill Askinazi says he is watching medical miracles.

An example: The 35-year-old man, toes on both feet pointed inward, hobbling in on crutches. He’d been suffering muscle spasticity so long that his hands were knots, clenched tight.

A few days later, he returned, having received his first dose of medical marijuana. One hand was unclenched fully, the other partially. He walked in without crutches, on his own two feet.

“It was unbelievable,” said Askinazi, principal of Potomac Holistics, one of the state’s 22 licensed medical marijuana dispensaries.

Pay attention, Ohio: This may be you in a few months.

RELATED: Where could medical marijuana be sold?

Maryland legalized medical marijuana in 2014, and now the state is seeing the results, with dispensaries around the state slowly opening. Ohio in 2016 took that same leap and hopes to have its program fully functioning by September 2018.

If Ohio’s launch mirrors the one in Maryland, the dispensaries will encounter some hurdles other businesses wouldn’t mind having: demand that exceeds supply and a customer base willing to drive as much as 50 miles for the product.

Since Potomac Holistics opened on Dec. 1, they’ve seen steady traffic. Those who receive “recommendations” for medical marijuana — federal law bars doctors from technically prescribing the drug — are buzzed in from outside, signing in with a guard and waiting in a warm, inviting and locked waiting room before being given their dose and being sent on their way.

There are reminders showing some of the uniqueness of these businesses. Dispensary operators like Askinazi look to buy, not lease, space to guard against fickle landlords having a change of heart and putting them out on the street. Community outreach is a must, and so too is security, mandated in the state regulations.

But Askinazi, who became convinced about the merits of medical marijuana 20 years ago when a synthetic form helped ease his son’s debilitating gastrointestinal condition, said whatever the hurdles, the work is worth it.

“We are absolutely thrilled we got into this,” he said.

In all, the Maryland Medical Cannabis Commission has licensed 14 growers and 12 processors as well.

One of those growers, Green Leaf Medical in Frederick, Md., will harvest its first batch Jan. 4, according to Philip Goldberg, CEO of the company.

The company’s 45,000 square foot plant, tucked in a massive building formerly used as a printing press, is a far cry from what one might imagine a pot farm would be. Each room features a computerized box that closely monitors the conditions of the room – everything from light levels to carbon dioxide levels. The plant features an extensive, state-of-the-art irrigation system. Security is so tight that some rooms require two employee badges to enter. Goldberg’s current pride and joy is an LED lighting system – the company is experimenting with using LED to grow the plant.

Despite the names of the plants themselves – labels on some plants designate them as “AK-47” or “Acapulco Gold” – Goldberg considers the plants an incredibly serious business. Each batch will undergo extensive testing as required by law, and outside of each room is an incredibly thorough binder describing conditions of the room and the plants three times a day. One room features the “mother” plants – plants whose clippings are used to breed new plants. The farm smells more like a greenhouse than Grateful Dead concert.

RELATED: Should Ohio legalize recreational marijuana?

Some of the plants would hardly be considered a drug in the traditional sense.

“You could smoke this whole table and not get a buzz,” Goldberg said of one plant, used to treat epileptic seizures in children.

Starting the business wasn’t easy. Goldberg and his brother and business partner Kevin had to secure $11 million in investments – from 120 investors — in order to get started. They face intense regulation, inspection and oversight – necessary, he said, because of the medicinal purpose of the product.

And it takes their product three and a half months to get to harvest. That’s before the lab testing and all the additional steps needed to get the plant to market.

“We’re trying to put out clean medicine here,” he said. “There can’t be metals, can’t be mold, can’t be pesticides.”

And they’re just getting started, he said.

“What patients are going to see on day one is going to look so different on day 180, so different on day 365,” he said.

Ohio, which passed its law in 2016, is one of 29 states to permit the medical use of marijuana, according to the National Council on State Legislatures. The Ohio Department of Commerce and State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy are required to have Ohio’s Medical Marijuana Control Program fully operational by September 2018.

Last month, the state reported that it had received 370 applications to operate 60 dispensaries. It has issued 12 provisional licenses for large-scale marijuana grow operations out of 109 applicants.

Green Leaf was among those rejected.

Goldberg said he was appalled at reports that one of the three people on the board that reviewed Ohio grower applications had a felony drug conviction. A second had business ties to one of the license winners. He said he and some others who have established cultivator businesses plan to appeal.

They do not, however, plan to file an injunction that would stop the process. “We would never do that, because it hurts patients,” he said.

Not all believe in the benefits of medical marijuana. Marcie Seidel, executive director of Drug-Free Action Alliance, wonders how much of the effectiveness of medical cannabis is truly medical and how much is placebo. She also worries that it’s normalizing drugs for a new generation of Americans.

“There’s a sales job going on out there that medical marijuana is a panacea,” she said. “I’m concerned about patients not being duped into doing something that may end up doing more harm than good or prevent them from coming forward for a more tried and proven technology to deal with what they’re dealing with.”

But Askinazi said he’s watched people come in for headaches, insomnia, loss of appetite and nausea.

He has personal reason to be invested: Twenty years ago, his son, then in middle school, had a debilitating gastrointestinal condition. He couldn’t eat. He lost 25 pounds. He was finally prescribed Marinol, a synthetic marijuana.

“It saved his life,” Askinazi said.

Now, he said, he’s seeing others benefit. One of his partners came into his office the other day in tears. The 90-year-old mother of a friend had received her dose.

“And they were just so grateful for the medicine we were able to provide them,” he said.

CONTINUING COVERAGE

Our Washington Bureau reporter Jessica Wehrman has covered the efforts of legalized medical marijuana in Ohio. Follow her on her Facebook page and on Twitter at @JessicaWehrman. Get the latest from our political team on our Ohio Politics Facebook page and on Twitter at @Ohio_Politics

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Pike County murders: Would investigation be priority for next Ohio Attorney General?

Published: Sunday, April 22, 2018 @ 2:13 PM

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine speaks during a 2016 news conference in Pike County about the killings of eight people. MIKE CAMPBELL/STAFF
Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine speaks during a 2016 news conference in Pike County about the killings of eight people. MIKE CAMPBELL/STAFF

Ohio Attorney General Mike DeWine hopes the Pike County murders — the largest investigation in state history — will be closed by the time he leaves office in January.

DeWine last year said he hoped to solve the April 22, 2016 shootings before leaving the attorney general’s office.

REPORT: Pike County murders: 8 deaths, 2 years, no answers

“It’s a hypothetical, I certainly would hope we would have the case solved by then, but we have professionals that are working on this case,” DeWine said. “We have professionals that will remain with the attorney general’s office and that will remain with BCI. We hope we don’t get to that point. We hope we solve it before then.”

Because officials have characterized the case as the largest criminal inquiry in Ohio history, the two candidates to become Ohio’s next attorney general face the decision of whether they would continue to consider solving the Pike County murders as the office’s number one priority.

» Pike County murder victims: A closer look at the 8 who died

“Anyone who would predict this nine months before taking office, without seeing the evidence and understanding the posture of the investigation at that time, is a fool, or a poltroon, or both — and not fit for the office of attorney general,” said Dave Yost, the Ohio auditor and Republican candidate for attorney general, in an email.

“Of the publicly available information, the only thing I can say I would have done differently is that I would have released the coroner’s report without litigation,” Yost said, referencing lawsuits that were filed by the news media to obtain the unredacted reports.

» Pike County murders: ‘There will always be a scar on this town’

Yost’s Democratic opponent, Steve Dettelbach, declined to comment.

“I’ve spent two decades as a prosecutor,” Dettelbach, the former U.S. attorney for the northern district of Ohio, said by text message. “I don’t and won’t politicize an important murder investigation.”

Hannah Rhoden, 19; Christopher Rhoden Sr., 40; his ex-wife, Dana Rhoden, 37; their sons, Christopher Rhoden Jr., 16, and Clarence “Frankie” Rhoden, 20; Frankie’s fiancee, Hannah Gilley, 20; and relatives Kenneth Rhoden, 44, and Gary Rhoden, 38 died in the shootings.

Read more stories:

» See photos of $1.89M mansion built by Charles F. Kettering

» The rise and fall of Elder-Beerman: A timeline of Dayton’s dying store

» Fairborn’s first roundabout planned

» Schuster CEO says no need to beef up security; Experts urge ‘hard look’ after fight

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Debates set for Monday in local state House race

Published: Tuesday, April 17, 2018 @ 6:00 AM
Updated: Sunday, April 22, 2018 @ 3:07 PM

Ohio Statehouse
Ohio Statehouse

If you can measure the popularity of a job by the number of people seeking it, the race for the Ohio House 42 district in southern Montgomery County is the region’s winner.

Five people — three Republicans and two Democrats — are on the May 8 ballot for a seat in a district that has long been a Republican stronghold. About 62 percent of the district is Republican, according to the Ohio Manufacturer’s Association’s 2016 Election Guide.

VOTERS GUIDE: Compare the Democratic candidates on the issues

VOTERS GUIDE: Compare the Republican candidates on the issues

The candidates will take part in a debate Monday night, April 23, at Miamisburg High School, 1860 Belvo Road, at 6:30 p.m.

The debate is sponsored by the Dayton Daily News, WHIO and the Dayton Area League of Women Voters

Here is a look at the candidates:

Democrats

Two candidates, Zach Dickerson and Autumn J. Kern, both of Miamisburg, are running for the Democratic nomination. Kern did not respond to any requests for comment or complete a Dayton Daily News Voter Guide.

Dickerson describes himself as a moderate Democrat who wants to focus on “kitchen table” issues such as fixing potholes, improving schools, funding first responders, battling the drug crisis and bringing good jobs and investment to the district.

Zach Dickerson of Miamisburg(Staff Writer)

He supports establishing a new microloan program for small businesses, restoring the local government fund and improving school funding so districts do not have to go on the ballot for property taxes so often. He’s not sure where he would find the money for those measures but said a review is needed to determine whether state tax cuts have been effective in stimulating the economy.

RELATED: Democratic leader says state tax cuts lead to higher local taxes

He supports the state’s expansion of Medicaid, which provides heath insurance to 685,000 Ohioans who were previously ineligible for coverage under Medicaid or the Affordable Care Act. He said that expansion is crucial not only for helping people get preventative care but also in getting treatment for drug addiction.

He said he wants to work on bipartisan legislation to help the district.

“I feel like I will be an advocate for civility,” Dickerson said. “I want a functioning government run by reasonable people. I don’t think we have that right now.”

On other issues, Dickerson said he supports Republican proposed limits on pay day loans and reducing hours for cosmetology licenses. But he said Republican efforts to cut access to safe, legal abortions are wrong-headed and sometimes do not pass constitutional muster.

He did say he would support “reasonable restrictions” such as banning late-term abortions, according to his Voter Guide answers.

Dickerson grew up hunting and said there needs to be a balance between Second Amendment rights and protecting the public. He said assault-style weapons should be banned and he supports “red-flag” legislation that would keep people from having weapons if they pose a threat to themselves or others.

Republicans:

Three candidates are seeking the Republican nomination: State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg; Miamisburg Vice Mayor Sarah M. Clark and political newcomer Marcus Rech.

Niraj Antani

Antani is seeking re-election to the seat he has held since 2014.

He said he has been a strong voice for conservative values in the Statehouse and has voted to cut taxes, for stronger abortion restrictions and for capping college tuition increases.

State Rep. Niraj Antani, R-Miamisburg(Staff Writer)

“As I’m in office longer I have more ability to deliver on legislation,” Antani said.

RELATED: Antani, anti-abortion group urge court to act against Kettering clinic

Antani wants to eliminate the state income tax and says he would oppose raising taxes. At the same time he advocates providing more support to community colleges for workforce development, increasing funding for law enforcement and restoring funding to local governments so they can fix roads and bridges instead of relying on the state to do it.

He also wants to have a drug dog inspecting every Fed Ex and U.S. mail piece in the state in an effort to stop the mailing of drugs. Antani said he doesn’t know what that would cost but it “would be very expensive.”

Doing without the state’s income tax revenue — which totaled $8 billion in 2017 — would be a tall order. Although he didn’t have a firm plan for reducing state revenues by that amount while still increasing funding for measures he supports, Antani said lawmakers would have to set priorities. He also advocated using $1 billion of the state’s rainy day fund for law enforcement to help fight the opioid epidemic.

Antani said he wants to reduce the number of people on Medicaid by providing work training and job coaches for able-bodied, childless adults.

Antani would eliminate the state-mandated minimum wage, which is currently governed by a constitutional amendment voters approved in 2006 that requires that it rise with inflation.

“The market should dictate wages,” Antani said.

He wants to freeze any changes in kindergarten through 12 education for five years and study best practices during the period, he said.

Antani is a strong supporter of restricting abortion rights and of loosening restrictions on guns. He said will support any anti-abortion legislation, including requiring that schools teach the controversial concept that a fetus feels pain at 18-20 weeks, something many scientists say is not true based on the neurological development of a fetus, according to Factcheck.org.

Earlier this year he advocated that 18-year-olds be allowed to carry long guns to high school, a position that was criticized by fellow Republicans as well as Democrats. He said he is no longer commenting on the subject.

RELATED: Ohio lawmaker: ‘Did a poor job of communicating’ position on students bearing firearms

Sarah M. Clark

The Miamisburg councilwoman said her opposition to Antani’s representation of the district is what put her in the race. She said she has more real world experience than he does and believes she would do a better job in the Statehouse.

Clark said she supports the Second Amendment but Antani’s idea that students could bring guns to school is wrong-headed and dangerous.

Sarah M. Clark, Miamisburg Vice Mayor(Staff Writer)

“I think it certainly highlighted his immaturity and inexperience,” Clark said, arguing that highly-trained armed security guards are a better option.

Clark wants to eliminate the Medicaid expansion, which she said costs taxpayers too much and hurts the people who are on Medicaid because she says they can’t find doctors who will take Medicaid.

RELATED: Kasich vs. lawmakers in Medicaid fight: ‘If you break it, you own it’

She said health care wouldn’t be so expensive if the state passed a health care cost transparency plan that would make pricing more competitive.

She does credit Medicaid with covering drug treatment for addiction. She said too many legislators focus on punishing addicts but she wants to instead have the state get people 18 months of treatment and imprison all drug dealers who sell opioids, methamphetamine and cocaine.

Clark said she wants to get rid of government regulations that have hurt job creation, though she couldn’t name one that she would put on the chopping block. 

She also wants to cut taxes if possible and said tax breaks have enabled Miamisburg to attract companies to the city.

RELATED: Three-term councilwoman elected new vice mayor of Miamisburg

Clark opposes “abortion in all circumstances,” according to her Voter Guide answers. She said abortion opponents should extend their “pro-life” view to making sure people are “supported and cared for” after they are born as well. She said she’d like to see churches and other community groups take over more of the job of helping people with addiction, health care and foster care.

Marcus Rech

Rech said he is running because he believes Antani is too divisive. He also said he opposes Antani’s idea of teenagers bringing guns to school.

“You can’t have 18 year olds walking around with loaded long rifles in schools,” Rech said. “It was a big blow to Second Amendment supporters. It made us look stupid.”

Rech said a better plan for school safety would be more use of metal detectors, hiring more security and training school staff as backups.

RELATED: Who is running?: 18 local state House and Senate on ballot this year

Rech wants to repeal the expansion of Medicaid health insurance and said people who lose their insurance should negotiate their own prices with doctors under the Direct Primary Care model. He supports more transparency in health care pricing as well.

“I just want people to have choices,” Rech said.

Marcus Rech of Miamisburg(Staff Writer)

He believes government subsidies for medical care are what has driven up prices.

A big theme for Rech is that Americans need to be the ones getting jobs. He said schools should upgrade the core curriculum and the state needs to give teachers more freedom. He also said there needs to be more vocational training because not everyone is cut out for college.

“I’d like to see a cheaper version of education,” Rech said. “I’d like to see it more streamlined.”

He opposes the use of special visas and green cards to hire non-Americans by universities, contractors and government.

“I think we should talk to these companies and if we need to maybe we can do some taxation to discourage it,” said Rech.

Ohio House of Representatives 42nd District

Term: 2 years

Pay: $60,584 annually

District: Moraine, West Carrollton, Miamisburg, Germantown and part of Centerville, and Washington, Miami and German townships.

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More information on the candidates

Zach Dickerson

Age: 38

Address: Miamisburg

Education: Law degree from University of Denver and bachelor of fine arts from Texas State University

Employment: Market research manager at Lexis-Nexis

Political experience: None

Political party: Democrat

Autumn J. Kern

Address: Miamisburg

Political party: Democrat

Kern did not respond to requests for further information

---

Niraj Antani

Age: 27

Address: Miamisburg

Education: Bachelor’s degree in political science from Ohio State University

Employment: State representative

Political experience: State representative since 2014

Political party: Republican

---

Sarah M. Clark

Age: 35

Address: Miamisburg

Education: Bachelor’s degree in history and political science from Trevveca Nazarene University

Employment: Business manager at Midwest Dental and Miamisburg vice mayor

Political experience: Mimaisburg council member since 2010

Political party: Republican

---

Marcus Rech

Age: 28

Address: Miamisburg

Education: Bachelor’s degree in business management from Thomas Edison State University

Employment: R &R Painting and Flooring

Political experience: None

Political party: Republican

 

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Major reforms could come to payday lending industry in Ohio

Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 @ 12:29 PM
Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 @ 1:48 PM

Ohio lawmakers vote to reform payday lending
Ohio lawmakers vote to reform payday lending

A week after Republican Cliff Rosenberger’s abrupt resignation, state lawmakers moved to push through the strongest reforms on payday lending that Ohio has seen in a decade.

House Bill 123 calls for closing loopholes, limiting monthly payments to no more than 5 percent of the borrower’s monthly income, limiting fees to $20 or no more than 5 percent of the principal, requiring clear disclosures for consumers, limiting loan amounts to no more than $500 and allowing only one loan from any lender at a time.

A House committee voted 9-1 in favor of the bill, sponsored by state Rep. Kyle Koehler, R-Springfield, that would rein in abusive practices across the industry. State Rep. Bill Seitz, R-Cincinnati, was the sole no vote. House Speaker Pro Tempore Kirk Schuring, R-Canton, has said the bill will get a floor vote in May.

“It’s never too late to do the right thing,” Koehler said.

Ted Saunders, head of CheckSmart, which has 94 payday lending shops in Ohio, called the bill “unworkable” and would lead to restricted credit and job losses in the industry.

Related: Ohio House speaker steps down amid federal probe

A decade ago, Ohioans voted by nearly a 2 to 1 margin in favor of capping payday loans at 28 percent APR. But payday lenders sidestepped the limits in place since 2008 by issuing loans under other sections of Ohio law. The result is that borrowers are paying annual interest rates of up to 591 percent — the highest in the nation according to some researchers.

The bill has faced a pitched battle: the measure stalled for more than a year but came alive after Rosenberger stepped down amid a federal investigation that sources say is tied to his travel with payday lending lobbyists.

Last week, the committee balked at taking action. This week, it eschewed efforts to weaken the bill and passed it as Koehler originally wanted it.

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Kucinich discloses $20,000 speaking fee from pro-Syrian group

Published: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 @ 10:17 AM
Updated: Wednesday, April 18, 2018 @ 6:21 PM

Dennis Kucinich
Dennis Kucinich

Democrat Dennis Kucinich is under attack for his association with Syrian President Bashar al-Assad and now disclosure of a $20,000 payment he received from a pro-Assad group.

Former Ohio governor Ted Strickland accused Kucinich of deliberately trying to hide the $20,000 payment by listing the income on his ethics statement without disclosing that it came from the Association for Investment in Popular Action Committees.

VOTERS GUIDE: Compare the Democratic governor candidates on the issues

Kucinich added to his ethics statement after the Ohio Ethics Commission notified him that more specifics were required.

“On the campaign trail, Dennis has refused to condemn Assad, even after pressed by voters and members of the media,” said Strickland, who supports Richard Cordray in the May 8 primary. “What we now know goes even further. Dennis wasn’t just defending Assad out of conviction. He was also being paid by a group that has been a vocal cheerleader for this murderous dictator. This very same organization is run by individuals with ties to the disgusting 9/11 truther movement and individuals who claim that Israel’s goal is ethnic cleansing. The facts around this are truly shocking.”

Kucinich has met with Assad multiple times, as both a member of Congress and as a FoxNews contributor.

In a statement released Tuesday, Kucinich called the attacks “cowardly, hysterical and outrageously untrue.”

Kucinich issued a written statement Wednesday that said in part: “The facts are these: I gave a speech at a peace conference in the United Kingdom last year in which I called for all nations involved in the Syrian conflict to end the violence that has killed hundreds of thousands of innocent men, women and children and forced millions to flee for their lives. The event was hosted and attended by peace leaders from around the world. In that speech, I called for an end to hostilities, an end to violence, an end to political and military terrorism.”

Kucinich said he attended a peace conference in England in 2017 at the invitation of the European Centre for the Study of Extremism and that a “civil rights advocacy group in California” covered the cost.

The Association for Investment in Popular Action Committees, based in California, holds the trademark for the Syria Solidarity Movement, according to federal records. That movement’s website claims that humanitarian organizations Doctors Without Borders, Amnesty International and the White Helmets are front groups for the U.S. government.

The association principals include Kamal Obeid, who is on the board of Architects and Engineers for 9/11 Truth — which denies the terrorist attack that killed nearly 3,000 people and injured thousands more.

Strickland said he believes if Kucinich wins the nomination, he’ll lose in the general election but he stopped short of calling for Kucinich to exit the primary race.

State Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, who is also in the gubernatorial primary, said “Mr. Kucinich must condemn Assad and explain himself, quickly.”

VOTERS GUIDE: Compare the Republican governor candidates on the issues

Just days ago, the U.S., England and France launched airstrikes against Syria, targeting Assad’s chemical weapons facilities. The strikes came in response to a suspected use of chemical weapons against civilians by the Assad regime.

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