Medical Marijuana Control Program


  • House Bill 523, effective on September 8, 2016, legalized the use of medical marijuana in Ohio for people with certain medical conditions and who receive a recommendation from an Ohio-licensed physician certified by the State Medical Board.
  • Three state government agencies are responsible for the operation of the program. The Ohio Department of Commerce is responsible for overseeing cultivators, processors and testing laboratories. The State of Ohio Board of Pharmacy is responsible for overseeing retail dispensaries, and the registration of patients and caregivers. The State Medical Board of Ohio is responsible for certifying physicians to recommend medical marijuana.
  • In creating its process to award the 24 cultivator licenses permitted by the law, the Department of Commerce conducted extensive research, including visiting other states with marijuana programs to learn from their experiences, hiring outside expertise through an RFP process, and soliciting feedback from an advisory board and the public. The result was a blind, compartmentalized application process that ensured an unbiased, objective review, free from the risk of conflicts of interest. This allowed the process to benefit from the expertise of industry veterans who may have professional contacts among applicants.
  • Additionally, as required by the law, the Department issued rules governing the administration of the program and they were approved by the Common Sense Initiative (CSI) to ensure their reasonable impact on business and the Joint Committee on Agency Rule Review (JCARR) to ensure their compliance with the law.

Subject Matter Expertise

  • In May 2017, the Department issued a request for proposal (RFP) to identify consultants with technical expertise in the medical marijuana industry who could assist with the development of certain components of the program, specifically cultivation and quality assurance, as well as scoring of applications. Three consultants were selected and contracts were awarded with the approval of the Controlling Board.
  • Additionally, the Department engaged state employees with expertise in operational management, security and finance to score applications.

The Application Review Process: Impervious to Bias or Conflicts of Interest

The Department went to great lengths to design an application review process that could not be influenced by bias or a conflict of interest. Features of it include:

  • The RFP process required the self-disclosure of existing relationships with individuals and businesses looking to apply for medical marijuana licenses in Ohio.
  • All reviewers (consultants and state employees) signed confidentiality statements and/or non-disclosure agreements, preventing them from sharing any information.
  • Reviewers remained in an ongoing agreement to self-disclose any current or future relationships with applicants for medical marijuana licenses. Any such disclosure would be a basis to remove them from the process. This process worked when one consultant disclosed a potential conflict and was removed from the cultivator scoring process.
  • Any failure to disclose a potential conflict of interest would provide the basis for legal action by the Department against the consultant and the applicant.
  • 22 of the 25 individuals involved in the scoring process were state employees with no involvement in the medical marijuana industry, reducing the likelihood for conflict.
  • Consultants are prohibited from applying for medical marijuana licenses, or assisting anyone to apply for medical marijuana licenses, for 10 years.

The Application Review Process: Anonymous and Compartmentalized

The Department’s application review process was designed to ensure that all applications were scored solely on merit, and that each portion of the application was compartmentalized and scored by separate teams of individuals who were required to reach a consensus score on each of their respective portions for each applicant.

  • Application reviews were completely blind, and application reviewers did not have access to identifying information about the applicant.
  • Reviewers were prohibited from conducting additional research on applications or the application contents, and must make a scoring determination based solely on information provided in the application.
  • Applications contained two separate sections. Section 2 – the only portion seen by reviewers assigning scores – contained no identifying information.
  • Section 2 of the application was divided into five parts; each part was scored independently by a separate team of reviewers. Each team, consisting of three reviewers, saw and evaluated only that portion of the application. All work was done in insolation of other review teams.
  • One team scored two parts of the application – the Business Plan and the Financial Plan.
  • The three reviewers responsible for evaluating each part of an application reached a consensus score for that part. Final scores for each application, based on team consensus, were compiled by a separate three-person team.

Appeals Process

  • Applicants who were not awarded provisional licenses and want to challenge award decisions will have the opportunity to do so in an independent appeal process. Appeals information was sent to all applicants.

The Bottom Line

No individual reviewer involved in the scoring of license applications provided more than one-third of a consensus vote toward a portion of the application’s final score. And no reviewer had access to any information that would allow them to know the identity of any applicant.

Commerce is responsible for standing up a safe, patient-centered, transparent and sustainable program as outlined in H.B. 523.