ATHENS — A company that wants to open a medical marijuana dispensary in Athens has won a court order blocking release of records related to the Ohio Board of Pharmacy’s investigation of the company.
The temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction requested by Harvest of Ohio LLC were issued this past week by Franklin Count Judge William Woods. The company is still seeking a permanent injunction.
Harvest of Ohio LLC was issued three provisional dispensary licenses in Ohio by the Ohio Board of Pharmacy (OBP), including one for a medical marijuana dispensary in Athens.
Those licenses were granted under a state law that required 15 percent of licenses be issued to businesses owned by members of certain economically disadvantaged groups. Harvest listed a black woman who operates a Cleveland business as owning 51 percent of Harvest.
“After granting the provisional dispensary licenses to Harvest, OBP conducted a further investigation into whether Harvest qualified as a member of an economically disadvantaged group,” Woods wrote. “OBP concluded that Harvest did not qualify.”
Harvest of Ohio LLC has denied any wrongdoing.
On June 7, the pharmacy board initiated proceedings to revoke Harvest’s provisional dispensary license. The board did so by issuing the company notice of an opportunity for a hearing on a proposal to take disciplinary action against the provisional licenses.
As part of the application process and investigation, Harvest provided the pharmacy board with information and documents the company considers confidential, including an operating agreement between the company and each of its members.
Harvest was seeking to block public release of information from its operating agreement that is referred to and quoted in the opportunity-for-hearing notices. (The Cincinnati Enquirer had made a public records request for the notices.)
Woods made it clear that he was only addressing that issue, and not addressing any issue that might be before the pharmacy board as a result issuing the opportunity-for-hearing notices.
Ohio law had previously said that certain types of pharmacy board investigative records — such as patient names and informant names — were not public records. Woods pointed out that an amendment to Ohio law took effect April 8 that requires all investigative records obtained by the pharmacy board to be kept confidential, with certain exceptions. Wood ruled the pharmacy board failed to prove the exceptions apply to investigative information regarding Harvest.
“There are sound reasons for requiring OBP to keep information obtained through an investigation confidential,” Woods wrote. “As Harvest has demonstrated, the release of confidential business information, such as the terms of Harvest’s operating agreement, would cause harm to Harvest regardless of the outcome of any proceeding before OBP.”
Woods issued a temporary restraining order and preliminary injunction preventing the disclosure of any investigative information in the notices of opportunity for hearing, including certain paragraphs in the section titled “Allegations” and the entire section titled “Potential Violations of Law.”
The Messenger had requested copies of the notices of opportunity for hearing. On Friday, that pharmacy board notified the newspaper it could not provide the documents because of Woods’ ruling.
* * *
Steve Robb is a Messenger staff journalist