Athens residents hoping for the long-expected medical marijuana dispensary to open on West Union Street may have to wait much longer as the company’s dispensary licenses are now on hold by state regulators.
Harvest Grows LLC was notified this month by the Ohio Department of Commerce that plans were in the works to suspend the large-scale cultivation licenses the company had obtained. This stemmed from a review of the company’s documents that ultimately led Commerce Department workers to conclude the business is not actually owned by a member of an “economically disadvantaged group.”
Ariane Kirkpatrick, an African-American Ohio resident, claimed on the application to be the owner of Harvest Grows, leading the state to award one of the 12 state grow licenses over higher-scoring applicants.
According to the original Ohio Cultivator Application, Kirkpatrick was listed as president and owner, owning 51 percent of the company. Throughout the rest of the application, Steve White was named the CEO and owner/officer of the business, but had 0 percent ownership of the company.
A flow chart later in the application explains that Kirkpatrick was president, while White was CEO, and another individual, Erika Waltz, is owner. Waltz was listed as having 49 percent ownership of the business.
A complaint has been filed by the business in Franklin County Common Pleas Court, attempting to block the pharmacy board from details of the Department of Commerce’s investigation.
Harvest’s stance is that its operating agreement contains confidential information about its “unique way of organizing an LLC” that allows it to qualify as a minority-owned business.
State law requires 15 percent of the medical marijuana licenses go to businesses with majority ownership from “economically disadvantaged” groups, such as African Americans, Hispanics or Asians. This law was later ruled unconstitutional in Franklin County Common Pleas Court.
However, this provision and the way Harvest laid out its application allowed the company to “jump” higher scoring applications in order to be awarded a license. Harvest planned to open three dispensaries in Ohio — one in Athens, one in Columbus, and the last in Dayton.
Court documents show that Kirkpatrick had no direct reports, and that White was assigned “all powers, functions and obligations customary for a chief executive officer of a company.” Further, the court documents state that “Kirkpatrick does not have control over the management and/or day-to-day operations of Harvest Grows, LLC,” and said this means the company does not qualify for the economically disadvantaged license benefits.