Ohio hired convicted felon to score medical marijuana grow license applications

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COLUMBUS, Ohio — The Ohio Department of Commerce came under fire from state officials Tuesday for hiring a medical marijuana program consultant who had a felony drug conviction on his criminal record.

The felony conviction would have disqualified the consultant from being awarded the medical marijuana cultivation licenses he was helping to score.

Trevor C. Bozeman, owner of iCann Consulting, pleaded guilty to manufacturing, delivering and possessing drugs, with intent to manufacture or deliver in 2005, Pennsylvania court records show. Bozeman, who was 20 at the time, was also charged with possession of marijuana and paraphernalia, but those charges were dismissed.

The department hired iCann for two consulting contracts: to help draft rules and regulations for medical marijuana product manufacturers and to provide expertise during the department’s evaluation of applications to grow medical marijuana.

The department agreed to pay Bozeman up to $150,000 for his work. To date, he has been paid about $12,892 by the department this year, according to state expenditure records.

The department last week announced 12 winners out of 109 applicants for large-scale medical marijuana grow operations.

Lt. Gov. Mary Taylor was among a handful of state officials who said Tuesday the state should not award any licenses until the process has been reviewed.

“As a mother who has struggled with addiction in my own family, I am outraged that a convicted drug dealer played a major role in determining who was suitable to receive a license,” Taylor said in a statement. “At a minimum, the integrity of the process has been called into question and it is unconscionable to imagine that this process would be allowed to continue until we have a full reckoning.”

Jimmy Gould, CEO of cultivator applicant CannAscend, said the department’s failure to disclose the prior conviction is one more reason for a full review of the department’s cultivation application review process.

CannAscend’s bid for a license was disqualified for an unspecified reason.

“Did the Department of Commerce not think it important to check and report the fact that at least one of the scorers of the Medical Marijuana Control Program had a criminal record for dealing drugs, and potentially other brushes with the law?” Gould, who co-founded ResponsibleOhio and the group’s 2015 marijuana legalization effort, said in a statement. “If not, why not? Did they require a background check to get a license, but not to give a license?”

The department, in writing the rules for the program, barred people with felony drug convictions from applying for a cultivator license and required each applicant to undergo a background check. The department would not say Tuesday whether they performed a background check on the consultants.

A department spokeswoman said all consulting companies hired by the department “met the standards provided within their contract.”

“Obviously, we’re not surprised to learn that people who applied and didn’t get a license are disappointed,” spokeswoman Stephanie Gostomski said in an email. “Any applicant who did not receive a license has the right to appeal the decision if they so choose.”

Gostomski said the applications were scored with a combination of state employees and consultants. The department has not responded to further questions from cleveland.com about the level of involvement consultants had with the process.

The department received permission earlier this year to award the contracts to iCann, incorporated last year in Dublin, Ohio; Arizona-based Meade and Wing and Illinois-based B&B Grow from the Ohio Controlling Board, a legislative panel that oversees state spending.

Sen. Bill Coley, a Liberty Township Republican and Ohio Controlling Board member, said the felony conviction should have been disclosed to the board. Coley said the department should re-evaluate the applications and re-score them without a convicted felon among the reviewers.

“I’m sure there’s plenty of good qualified people with educational backgrounds and professional backgrounds that could do the job that don’t have a felony or wouldn’t raise any questions or doubt,” Coley said. “This whole program’s going to be under very strict scrutiny, both from the state and the federal level, and we want to make sure we get it right.”

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