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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

“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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Ohioans against increased tariffs on Canada, Mexico; split on China, poll says

Published: Thursday, June 14, 2018 @ 1:19 PM
Updated: Thursday, June 14, 2018 @ 1:19 PM

China Set to Impose New Tariffs on US Products China is adding tariffs on meat, fruit, wine and other goods from the United States. The move comes in response to taxes on imported steel and aluminium approved by President Trump. The new tariffs are to begin on Monday, the Chinese Finance Ministry said. Beijing increased the tariff rate on pork by 25 percent and 15 percent on 120 other U.S. goods.

A new survey shows Ohio voters oppose tariffs on steel and aluminum imports from Canada, Mexico and the European Union while they are equally divided on tariffs on Chinese goods if those duties raise the cost of consumer goods.

The poll, released Thursday by Quinnipiac University, suggest Ohio voters are more wary of tariffs and protectionist policies by the federal government than many political analysts believe.

By a difference of 45 percent to 35 percent, Ohio voters oppose the new 25 percent tariff on steel imports and 10 percent on aluminum imposed last month by President Donald Trump.

RELATED: How would Trump tariffs work?

That opposition increases to 57 percent if the steel and aluminum tariffs lead to higher prices. Economists have argued that tariffs on steel and aluminum will raise the price of a broad array of consumer products from cars, trucks, and washing machines.

“Despite Ohio’s reputation as a blue-collar bastion, Buckeye state voters overall are not supportive of increasing tariffs on steel and aluminum imported into the United States from foreign lands,” said Peter A. Brown, assistant director of the Quinnipiac poll.

RELATED: What is a tarrif and why should you be worried about it

The polls shows 55 percent of Ohio voters favor tariffs on Chinese imports, but when asked if they would back those tariffs “raised the costs of goods that you buy,” support plummets to 46 percent while 46 percent would oppose the tariffs.

The poll of 1,082 Ohio voters was conducted by landline telephones and cell phones from June 7 through Tuesday. The poll has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percent.

The poll also showed that 76 percent of Ohio voters favor allowing undocumented immigrants brought to the United States as children to remain while 51 percent of voters want to retain the 2010 health law known as Obamacare.

Those numbers suggest that Republican officeholders are at odds with voters in Ohio. Republicans have been cool to overhauling immigration laws and a sizable majority oppose Obamacare.

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Gov. John Kasich more popular with Democrats in Ohio than Republicans, poll says

Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2018 @ 5:24 PM
Updated: Wednesday, June 13, 2018 @ 5:24 PM

Ohio Gov. John Kasich (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)
Ohio Gov. John Kasich (Photo by Ty Wright/Getty Images)

Gov. John Kasich has a good approval rating with one political party in Ohio, just not his own.

A new Quinnipiac University poll reports that that Gov. John Kasich has a 52 percent job approval rating overall and he’s more popular among Democrats than his fellow Republicans who are evenly divided over the governor.

Fifty-seven percent of Democrats give Kasich the thumbs up and 52 percent of them would like to see Kasich make another run for president in 2020.

Meanwhile, nearly three in four Republicans say they don’t want him to run for president in 2020.

Related: What’s next? DeWine versus Cordray fight for Ohio

Kasich was the last Republican candidate to drop out of the race against Donald Trump in the Republican primary in 2016.

Rumors have swirled since that Kasich may run again as a Republican in 2020. Kasich says he is unlikely to challenge President Trump as an independent, but hasn’t ruled it out.

It’s unlikely, but when you have options on the table, all options are on the table, right?” Kasich said in an interview with CNN.

The Quinnipiac poll was conducted June 7 to June 12, contacted 1,082 Ohio voters and has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.7 percentage points.

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New polls show Sherrod Brown up big over Jim Renacci in US Senate race

Published: Wednesday, June 13, 2018 @ 2:32 PM

Sen. Sherrod Brown and Congressman Jim Renacci
Sen. Sherrod Brown and Congressman Jim Renacci

Two new polls out show U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown with a big lead over his Republican challenger Congressman Jim Renacci.

Brown is running for a third term in the U.S. Senate this November.

Quinnipiac pollsters said Brown holds a 51-34 percent lead over U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth, in the senate race.

Brown has a 55 percent job approval rating, the poll said. Meanwhile, half of Ohio voters say they don’t know enough about Renacci to form an opinion.

The Quinnipiac poll focused on registered voters, but a poll out yesterday of likely voters showed a similar trend.

Brown was up over Renacci 53.4 percent to 36.6 percent in the Cincinnati Enquirer/Suffolk University poll.

This year’s race for the Ohio Senate seat has started aggressively, with Brown trying to define Renacci, as early as last month with dual ads, aired just days after Renacci won his primary.

RELATED: ‘I don’t want it,’ Sherrod Brown says of being vice president

Renacci has hit Brown back with an ad of his own.

Renacci told Dayton Daily News editors in an interview Monday that he will not let his opponent define him.

On Monday, Renacci was heralding an America First poll that he said shows the Senate race is a close one. The poll shows Brown leading Renacci by 4 points, within the poll’s margin of error, Renacci tweeted.

“The fact that he talks more about polls than the issues important to Ohio workers is a good example that Congressman Renacci only looks out for himself,” said Preston Maddock, communication director for the Brown campaign.

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Ohio senators, congressmen react to North Korea summit

Published: Tuesday, June 12, 2018 @ 1:30 PM
Updated: Tuesday, June 12, 2018 @ 4:36 PM

Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman
Ohio Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman

Ohio Gov. John Kasich and Democratic Rep. Tim Ryan expressed alarm at President Donald Trump’s decision to cancel planned military exercises between the United States and its South Korean allies.

Trump, whose announcement Tuesday apparently caught South Korean officials and the U.S. military by surprise, made the pledge at a news conference after his historic summit in Singapore with North Korean Leader Kim Jong-Un, who said he was committed to denuclearize the Korean peninsula.

Kasich, a Republican who ran for the presidency in 2016 and may do so again in 2020, said the move to cancel the military exercises “blindsided our principal ally in the region and some of our own military commanders.”

“Americans welcome the fact that President Trump has begun discussions with” with Kim, Kasich said. “But we must remain vigilant.”

RELATED: Watch the dramatic video that President Trump played for Kim Jong Un

Ryan, a Niles Democrat who has emerged as one of Ohio’s strongest Trump critics, complained about the “compulsive assurance from” Trump to suspend the exercises, saying “this concession from Trump to North Korea is deeply concerning,” and adding that Trump “would do well to remember who our friends really are.”

“Regrettably, it seems that we have nothing today to show for our efforts other than a toothless statement and the same promises that the North Korean regime has already given and broken many times over to previous presidents,” Ryan said.

In a conference call with reporters, Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, said “the exercises with South Korea are important. I don't think we should give them up without being sure they are meeting the requirements they've agreed to.”

At his news conference in Singapore, Trump said ending the exercises “will save us a tremendous amount of money,” and said he “like to be able” to remove the 32,000 U.S. troops in South Korea, although he said “that’s not part of the equation right now.”

Ohio lawmakers praised the willingness of Trump and Kim to talk directly, but also sprinkled their reactions with words such as “skeptical” and remaining “vigilant” when dealing with Pyongyang and its nuclear weapons arsenal.

Portman said in a statement he remains “skeptical but hopeful” the summit will “translate into meaningful progress” in convincing Pyongyang to eliminate its nuclear weapons program.

But Portman said in the past, North Korea has “used talks to stall while continuing its nuclear and missile programs, and empty promises cannot buy any more time.”

Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, said “we’ve heard empty promises from the North Koreans before, so we must continue to hold them accountable with tough sanctions until we see proof the North Koreans are taking real steps to dismantle their nuclear weapons program.”

U.S. Rep. Jim Renacci, R-Wadsworth, is running for the U.S. Senate against Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio. THE COLUMBUS DISPATCH/FILE(Staff Writer)

Senate Republican candidate Jim Renacci, who is challenging Brown in the November election, praised Trump for holding the summit, but said, “This is just the beginning of negotiations, and we must never waiver on our demand for the 100 percent, verifiable, and irreversible denuclearization of North Korea.”

Ohio Gov. John Kasich(AP Photo/Charles Krupa, File)

Kasich, Portman and Brown all cited the tragic death of Otto Warmbier of Wyoming, Ohio, who died in Cincinnati last year shortly after being released by North Korea where had been held in prison for more than a year. Portman Tuesday described the Kim regime as “evil.”

Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton, said after the summit that he is “cautiously optimistic” about the outcome, saying the summit could be a step toward making the world safer. But, he wrote in a tweet: “I continue to remain skeptical about Kim Jong Un’s commitment to denuclearization. The U.S. and our allies must work together to verify any action taken by North Korea.”

By contrast, Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Urbana, was more upbeat, tweeting “congratulations” to Trump and adding “this is an important step towards greater peace and prosperity for the whole word.”

Impact on November election

How important is this for voters in the upcoming mid-term elections? Depends on which voter, said Donna Schlagheck, former political science chair at Wright State University.

“The Trump base, they are going to love this. And they are going to love this because they will willfully chose to be ignorant of the significant details. He looked great. They had a summit Handshakes were made. History was made,” she said.

However, polls show that a majority of Americas support Trump’s meeting with Kim following news that Pyongyang had successfully produced a miniaturized nuclear warhead and was considering a plan to fire missiles at Guam.

Schlagheck thinks voters better understood the weight of the G7 summit, held in Canada just before the North Korea summit, where Trump and his advisers made headlines for lashing out at the leaders of other large industrialized nations and longtime U.S. allies.

“Quebec City probably speaks most to voters. Jobs. Tariffs,” she said.

Tony Hall, retired longtime congressman from the Dayton area, has visited North Korea seven times and used that experience to help free a Dayton area man Jeffrey Fowle who was jailed in North Korea four years ago for leaving a bible in a public place.

Hall said at this point, it’s hard to tell what the details of the agreement will be, but he thinks the summit is “a very, very good step.”

“Anytime you have a peace agreement. There’s nothing bad about that,” Hall said.

Since retiring from Congress in 2002, Hall has focused on hunger issues and said one of his top concerns is that so many of the North Koreans are starving and in need of assistance.

“There’s been very little information come out about that in the past few years, but a lot of their people are very malnourished. Hopefully this peace agreement will bring about a restoration of food and some humanitarian work and to restoring a good part of their people to better health,” Hall said.

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