Rows of marijuana plants in its final flower stage stand tall at the THC Design facility in Los Angeles on Friday, Aug 25, 2017. (Ed Crisostomo, Los Angeles Daily News/SCNG)

Ohio officials under fire for hiring marijuana consultant who has drug conviction

COLUMBUS, Ohio — The state faced criticism Wednesday for hiring a consultant with a drug conviction to help select Ohio’s medical marijuana growers.

At issue is a 2005 guilty plea in Pennsylvania by consultant Trevor Bozeman at age 20 to manufacturing, possessing and distributing drug charges. A marijuana possession charge was dropped.

Bozeman was one of three consultants the state selected to help grade the grower applications. The consultants worked with state employees to select the growers. Phone and email messages were left with Bozeman on Wednesday.

Last week, Ohio selected 12 large growers for a total of 24 licenses. Jimmy Gould, CEO of CannAscend, an unsuccessful applicant, publicized Bozeman’s arrest on Tuesday to protest the selection process.

Republican state Auditor David Yost, a candidate for attorney general, on Wednesday called for the grower selection process to be stopped and reviewed. Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor, a fellow Republican running for governor, said no grower licenses should be awarded until the process is reviewed.

Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley, a Democrat running for governor, called the issue a misstep and disappointment.

The Department of Commerce, which oversees the medical marijuana selection process, resisted calls for removing Bozeman, who has been paid $6,061 to date for scoring grower applications.

Those applications were reviewed by more than 20 people with equal influence, with growers selected by consensus, said Commerce spokesman Stephanie Gostomski.

Growers addressed questions on five separate sections of the application, and teams of three were assigned to review one of those sections per application, Gostomski said. No individual consultant had authority to approve a grower’s application.

Consultants met standards spelled out in their contracts, and rejected applicants are free to appeal, Gostomski said.

“This was a careful, fair process which we fully and extensively explained in advance and are glad to do it again to anyone with questions or concerns,” she said.

The state will use the consultants next to help score applicants for the medical marijuana processors.

Winning applicants plan to build their facilities across the state, from the tiny Appalachian village of Mount Orab to the tire manufacturing hub of Akron in industrial northeast Ohio.

Charles Bachtel is CEO of Cresco Labs Ohio LLC, one of the growers selected by Ohio. He also has contracts in Illinois and Pennsylvania. Ohio’s medical marijuana program is the best the company has seen so far, Bachtel said Wednesday.

The state says the sites will be indoor, high-security, regulated businesses and won’t be recognizable as growing facilities from the outside.

Ohio’s medical marijuana law, passed last year, allows people with medical conditions such as cancer and epilepsy to buy and use marijuana if a doctor recommends it. It doesn’t allow smoking.