OH lawmakers at odds over bill calling for medical marijuana program audit

Ohio Statehouse News

State Senator Bill Coley says he doesn’t want to delay the medical marijuana program and that is why he has introduced his bill that calls for an audit of the program and how the state’s Department of Commerce scored the applications.

His concern is the cloud of uncertainty over the validity of the scoring may cause a court to put the whole program on hold until that uncertainty can be resolved.

“That would prevent people from being up and ready on September 8th,” said Coley. 

A lawsuit filed by applicants who were denied a license is progressing ahead of the September 8th start date for the program.

Coley’s bill would codify into state law the process by which lawmakers want the issue clarified; that would be, to have the Auditor of State conduct an audit (which is already underway) and provide results and ways to fix the problems.

Coley feels there is still plenty of time to have that happen, and he says while it is going on there is nothing stopping any of the provisional license holders from moving forward with their plans to open their doors on September 8th. 

The bill would give the Auditor 30 days to complete the audit, from the day the governor signs the bill. Coley has placed an emergency clause into the legislation that would by-pass the normal 90 day waiting period before a bill becomes law so work can start immediately.

After those 30 days, the Department of Commerce would have 30 days to implement any recommendations the Auditor has made as a result of the audit.

That 60 day window means that the bill would have to be enacted into law no later than the first week of July.

But that happens to be in the middle of the lawmaker’s summer break, so the real cut-off date for this legislation would be around the last officially scheduled session days for the House and Senate, since they both have to pass the bill and agree to its final language.

Realistically, it would have to pass both chambers by the third week of May to avoid having to call lawmakers back to Columbus for “if needed” sessions in June.

Because this is an election year, controversial bills are generally being avoided until after the primaries are over in the first week of May.

So in essence, this bill is going to have to fly through the legislative process; and the “swiftly” is not a term that is commonly used in how legislation moves here at the Statehouse.

With that said Coley believes that the bill is straight forward and can be attached simply as an amendment to an appropriate bill and passed that way. Lawmakers do this all the time, especially with the operating budget bill. 

So there is still a chance Coley’s bill could become law; much to the chagrin of State Senator Kenny Yuko.

Yuko has been trying to get medical marijuana off the ground in Ohio since 2003 and he says Coley’s bill is not going to help do that; quite the opposite, according to Yuko.

There is one big loophole in the bill Yuko doesn’t like.

Remember how we just mentioned the Department of Commerce is given 30 days to fully implement the recommendations of the Auditor?

Here’s the thing, the bill says they must implement the changes and if they fail to do that they have to explain why they didn’t implement all of them; and that’s where the section stops. 

It doesn’t go on to explain how or if the changes will be implemented anyway or if the Department’s refusal to implement them is allowed to stand.

Further, the bill goes on to state that if the Department does not fully implement the Auditor’s recommendations, then no final licenses can be given out to anyone.

And that could put the brakes on the whole program, according to Yuko.

Let’s muddy the water a little more though.

According to Coley, the Department of Commerce has hired an independent auditor to come in and do their own assessment of what happened while the Auditor of State is conducting his audit.

Will the two audits find the same results? If they don’t who does the Department of Commerce side with? Do they have to follow the recommendations of the auditor if both audits don’t match?

And why does any of this matter if both the Auditor of State and the Department of Commerce are already taking steps to figure out what happened and how to fix it?

Coley says it all goes back to the court case.

According to Coley if the Legislature does not codify their expectations they are not sending a signal to the judicial branch they are taking care of the problem. And Coley says that could cause a judge to issue an injunction.

Yuko says that is out of lawmaker’s hands at this point, and that the court is going to do what it is going to do.

Thousands of suffering Ohioans have been waiting years for this program to begin; to get relief. 

What happens in the next few weeks could determine if their wait will continue or come to an end.

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