breaking news

‘Amber, please look at me!’: Siblings dealing with aftermath of car ramming them outside Springfield bar

Olympian, whiskey heir among those trying to grow medical pot in Ohio


Long-time natives and carpetbaggers. Construction magnates, toy tycoons, an Olympian and an heir to the Jim Beam whiskey fortune.

These are some of investors vying to win approval to grow medical marijuana in Ohio. The state accepted 185 applications in June and now has to decide who gets the 24 cultivator licenses available.

RELATED: New rules set for medical marijuana use in Ohio

Ohio’s medical marijuana law, passed last year, allows people with 21 medical conditions, including cancer, Alzheimer’s and epilepsy, to purchase and use marijuana after getting a doctor’s recommendation. The law doesn’t allow smoking.

Ohio has some of the country’s highest licensing fees. Small growers pay $2,000 to apply and $18,000 in licensing fees, while large growers pay $20,000 to apply and $180,000 in licensing. The applications will be scored out of 100 points based on their business plans, cultivation methods and past industry experience.

The estimated cost of opening a facility runs from the hundreds of thousands to the tens of millions. Yet that hasn’t deterred local business owners, minorities or investors from California to Pennsylvania from applying.

RELATED: $1.8 million in state funds go to regulating medical pot

They find Ohio attractive because they believe it’s learned from the lessons of other states, from federal raids on Montana cultivators to harsh restrictions in Illinois that hampered patient access and curbed demand.

“They’re paying attention and adopting what works and improving what didn’t,” said Chris Lindsey, a legal analyst with the Marijuana Policy Project. “That puts Ohio really far, far ahead of the game compared to a lot of other states.”

With so much at stake, groups have scouted medical professors and hired seasoned consultants to boost their chances. Some declined to speak because they did not want to jeopardize their applications. Ohio hasn’t announced when licenses will be issued, but the program is due to be fully operational by September 2018.

A look at some of the players involved and their company names:

HOMETOWN HEROES

Brian and Daniel Kessler — Riviera Creek Holdings

Brian Kessler, whose father patented an early version of the hula hoop, made his fortune running a toy company until he shifted to investing in marijuana. He and his nephew, Daniel, both Youngstown natives, say they want to avoid what they call the “Taj Mahal” syndrome — building too quickly. They say they want to start small and monitor patient numbers before expanding production.

They plan to grow their marijuana using a closed-circuit hydroponics system they say minimizes the chance for infestation.

The Kesslers say they’re determined to bring jobs to Youngstown and hope their local roots will give them a boost in the competition for a license.

___

FAMILIAR FACES

Ian James, Bill Brisben, Jim Gould, Oscar Robertson — CannAscend

James is back after spearheading a failed 2015 ballot measure put before Ohioans to legalize marijuana. He’s joined by Jim Gould, a former business partner of President Donald Trump, and Bill Brisben, a Cincinnati real estate developer and former UNICEF representative. Together, they plan to invest about $30 million in a site outside of Cincinnati.

Nick Lachey, former frontman for boy band 98 Degrees, had backed James’ 2015 initiative but is no longer involved. But former basketball player and Olympian Oscar Robertson is still an investor. Known as “The Big O,” Robertson is known as one of the greatest NBA players of all time.

___

MINORITY-OWNED BUSINESSES

Dana Smoot — Under the Water Tower

Smoot is the legal counsel for Smoot Construction, a prominent Columbus-based, African-American-owned construction company that has worked on projects at Ohio State and the recently opened African American Museum of History in Washington. Smoot did not respond to messages seeking comment.

Ohio’s marijuana program stipulates that 15 percent of licenses must go to a minority-owned group — black, Hispanic, Asian or Native American. Legal experts have questioned whether the quota would stand in court, though no legal challenge has been filed to date.

___

OUT OF TOWN INVESTORS

Ben Kovler — Green Thumb Industries Ohio

Kovler is a Chicago investment banker whose grandfather, Everett Kovler, was president of the Jim Beam whiskey company in the 1970s. Kovler started in marijuana three years ago by founding Green Thumb Industries, which is headquartered in Illinois and now operates in six states.

He says he plans to invest about $10 million if selected. His facility will grow 20 to 50 strains of marijuana to make oils, pills and slow-release patches that will help patients fall asleep at night.

___

LOCAL POLITICIANS

Chad Oberson — Oberson’s Nursery and Landscapes

Oberson runs a plant nursery and landscaping company in Fairfield. Oberson is also a Fairfield councilman, elected to a non-partisan position, and voted in April for a local ban on medical marijuana which passed unanimously. He declined comment.



Reader Comments ...


Next Up in Politics

Solutions from local opioid forums presented to state leaders
Solutions from local opioid forums presented to state leaders

Proposed solutions to Ohio’s addiction crisis that grew out of a collaboration between journalists and local communities will be presented to Gov. John Kasich’s office. Through a series of community forums, including five in southwest Ohio in February, journalists with Your Voice Ohio heard from an estimated 500 individuals who have been...
What is State Issue 1 on the May ballot?
What is State Issue 1 on the May ballot?

On May 8, Ohio voters will decide on major changes to how Ohio draws district lines for members of Congress. The issue, put on the ballot by the General Assembly by a bi-partisan vote of 83-10 in the House and a unanimous vote in the Senate, is supposed to create a fairer process. After every census, Ohio lawmakers change the state’s congressional...
Gov. Kasich orders review of Ohio gun background check program
Gov. Kasich orders review of Ohio gun background check program

Ohio Gov. John Kasich signed an executive order Monday to get an update on weaknesses in the state’s gun background-check system. Failure by local courts and law enforcement to send timely data to the state, which forwards it to National Instant Criminal Background Check System, could mean guns are being purchased by people who are ineligible...
Guns, minimum wage top issues in Democratic governor primary
Guns, minimum wage top issues in Democratic governor primary

Four years ago, Ohio Democrats pushed hard for a gubernatorial candidate who looked good on paper and found one: Ed FitzGerald. The campaign was soon run aground by scandal — including news reports that he had been questioned by police after they found him in a parked car in the early morning hours with a woman who was not his wife — and...
Fire Mueller? Don’t do it, Ohio Republicans say
Fire Mueller? Don’t do it, Ohio Republicans say

Most Ohio lawmakers on Capitol Hill — including Sen. Rob Portman, R-Ohio, and Rep. Mike Turner, R-Dayton — say it would be a mistake for President Donald Trump to fire Special Counsel Robert Mueller, though taking action to block the president from doing so has more opposition among local Republicans. “We need to let Special Counsel...
More Stories