COLUMBUS (WKBN) – The medical marijuana program in Ohio is run by the Department of Commerce. According to Auditor of State Dave Yost, it has been a bit of a mess getting the program set up.
According to Yost, his auditors and investigators have found that a convicted felon has helped develop the program and score applications for it, and that the software system used to submit and score those applications was unsecured, leaving it open to tampering.
There are also claims of conflicts of interest — which Yost said journalists have identified — not to mention lawsuits that are being filed over the trouble all of this has caused.
It was early December of 2017 when the first of these controversies started to come to light.
At that time, Yost called for the Department of Commerce to stop what it was doing and make sure they didn’t have a problem. That advice was seemingly ignored until this week, when Yost received a letter from the director of the department, Jacqueline Williams.
He described the letter to read that if he still thought they had a problem, they would stop and check things out — this is two months later, mind you.
According to Yost, he wrote back that he believed it was too late to do that now, with the lawsuits and program start date just months away.
If State Senator Bill Coley gets his way, however, what Yost thinks about the chances of successfully meeting that deadline may not matter.
Coley has just introduced a bill that would mandate a freeze on the issuance of final permits for the program for a specific time period. If signed into law, the bill would call for the auditor to finish his investigation and then give the Department of Commerce 30 days to fix the problems Yost’s diligent employees find.
Coley hopes to have the bill moved through the legislation and enacted by the end of March, while there are still some bills — like the anti-bump stock bill in the Senate — that still haven’t had a first hearing.
But even if it is passed expeditiously, Yost said it may be tough to meet deadlines because he cannot say how long it would take to unravel the mess at the Department of Commerce.
Coley seems to think that Yost’s people are nearly finished. Yost did not provide us with that same sentiment.
“These things are like a ball of string and you pull it, and you really kinda gotta keep pulling until you get to the end of the ball of string, and you can’t predict how long that’s gonna be,” Yost said.
Much of the success in identifying all of the problems and subsequently fixing them will depend on how willing the Department of Commerce is to play ball, in terms of granting access to the auditors and investigators.
More and easier access would certainly speed things up and could help keep the program on track for that September deadline. But by how much is unknown since little is known about how cooperative the Department of Commerce has been so far?
Governor Kasich has been quiet about this whole mess and Williams reports directly to him. Assistance from the governor in ensuring the auditor’s work can be done swiftly and efficiently could also potentially speed things up, and, again, that is if it isn’t already being done — something we could not confirm.
Ultimately, Coley brought up a good point during the news conference where he announced his legislative fix to this problem.
“As human beings, we’re wonderfully flawed individuals and we’re gonna make mistakes,” he said. “The question of someone’s character is what are you going to do when you find out about it.”
Voters who need medicinal marijuana and those that don’t are looking to all of those mentioned above for the answer to that question.