COLUMBUS – Who applied to grow medical marijuana in Ohio? The state isn't saying.
After legalizing medical marijuana last year, the state is setting up a massive program to oversee the businesses who grow and sell marijuana as well as doctors who recommend it to patients.
Those who want to grow the drug must apply with the Ohio Department of Commerce, which has already collected applications to be one of Ohio's 12 small-scale medical marijuana farms. But when The Enquirer requested those applications, seeking to report where marijuana growers might be located, the state said it didn't have to share the applications with the public right now.
"The requested applications and cover sheets are not public records because the Department of Commerce has not yet used the documents," Ohio Department of Commerce attorney Brian Peters wrote in a letter to The Enquirer.
Simply having the applications isn't enough to make them public records, Peters wrote. The department must have "utilized or relied" on them before it has to release them, even with businesses' secrets redacted, he said.
Ohio law doesn't support the state's argument, Enquirer attorney Darren Ford said.
“Transparency in the process of awarding growers’ licenses will be essential to promoting and maintaining public confidence in the State of Ohio’s regulatory oversight of the industry," Ford said.
It is nearly impossible to know how many people applied statewide and where they plan to grow medical marijuana without those applications.
Some cities have revealed who wants to grow medical marijuana within their borders. For example, Nature's Apex, owned by Rhinegeist co-founders, wants to cultivate marijuana in Camp Washington. Johnstown in central Ohio has welcomed growers to its village. Other cities have passed bans to keep marijuana businesses out.
While the application deadline for small-scale growers has passed, the deadline for larger operations is Friday. All applications will be reviewed by three firms, which will score cultivators based on operation plans, security, quality assurance and finances.
Those firms will score the applicants without seeing their names. The goal is to prevent biased decisions. One possible result: Key players in the industry could be overlooked in favor of people with well-executed applications.
Ohio passed its medical pot law last year. Ohio-grown marijuana for eligible medical conditions should be available by September 2018. Until then, patients can seek marijuana from other states where the drug is legal.