COLUMBUS – An Akron medical marijuana grower says Ohio regulators are “punting” on a decision to allow the company to expand to meet patient demand.
Fire Rock Ltd., a “level II” small-scale grower, sued the Ohio Department of Commerce in the Ohio Supreme Court last week over the agency’s inaction in its request to expand. Without a decision, Fire Rock has no way to appeal and move forward, so the company is asking the court to force the agency to act.
“This is an unfortunate position given that medical marijuana patients are the ones that are ultimately harmed,” attorney Argeri Lagos wrote in the complaint.
The Ohio Department of Commerce did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
On Feb. 1, 2020, Fire Rock requested permission to expand from 3,000 square feet of growing space to 6,000 square feet. The company sent another letter on June 15 asking about the status of its request.
On June 24, Ohio Department of Commerce policy adviser Greg McIlvaine informed Fire Rock and four other small growers that it would neither approve nor deny their applications. McIlvaine wrote that the agency director had not yet sought expansion plans from cultivators.
Small growers were allotted 3,000 square feet of growing space – expandable to 9,000 square feet. Larger, “level I” growers have up to 25,000 square feet, expandable 75,000 square feet.
Program rules allow for cultivators to seek expansion after Sept. 9, 2018. Fire Rock CEO Peter Pantelides asserted in a letter to state regulators the “expansion window” opened then.
The cultivation piece of the program has already expanded beyond the initial 24 grow licenses to 33 licenses because of scoring errors, lawsuits and appeals.
Not all of the large cultivators are using their full capacity. Meanwhile, smaller growers like Fire Rock say they cannot keep up with demand from patients and dispensaries. Different strains of marijuana have different properties that patients find beneficial.
Fire Rock estimated in February that it was responsible for approximately 10% of flower sales in the state while operating only 1% of all cultivation square footage.
“Data from the inventory tracking system regarding patient usage of medical marijuana from Fire Rock shows extreme peaks immediately upon availability, and then long periods of little to no sales volume due to inventory being exhausted, proving demand exists,” Pantelides wrote to the commerce department in July.
Since December 2018, 131,654 people have registered as Ohio medical marijuana patients, far exceeding the state’s initial estimates of between 4,600 and 51,000 patients in the program’s first two years. Sales have been increasing during the pandemic and averaged $4.8 million a week from July 15 to Aug. 17, the most recent dates sales information is available.
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