, Salem, MA

February 14, 2014

Medical marijuana dispensary applications escaped scrutiny

By Douglas Moser
Staff writer

---- — The state Department of Public Health did not verify information about local community support detailed on the medical marijuana dispensary applications it reviewed, conversations with a dozen officials indicate.

Officials in Haverhill, Lawrence, Beverly and Salem said no one from the DPH, which was charged with reviewing the 100 dispensary applications and issuing provisional licenses, contacted them after applications were submitted in November to review or verify information applicants listed.

The Eagle-Tribune, a sister newspaper of The Salem News, reported on Sunday that several officials in Haverhill are questioning how their interactions with Healthy Pharms Inc., which won a provisional license for a Haverhill dispensary on Jan. 31, were characterized in the nonprofit’s application. Additionally, a Haverhill city councilor said last week that he did not realize a letter he signed would be used to score points for Healthy Pharms in the application process.

Meanwhile, state House Speaker Robert DeLeo, D-Winthrop, has called for a joint legislative committee to investigate questions surrounding the Healthy Pharms application and at least two dispensary applications in Boston.

Additionally, the Department of Public Health said yesterday it is requiring a signed statement from those with provisional licenses attesting to the accuracy of information included in their applications.

Officials from around Essex County interviewed this week, who ranged from town and city officials to state legislators, said they were not contacted by DPH, or IFC International, the Virginia consulting firm that scored the applications, about their names or characterizations of their conversations that appeared in dispensary applications.

“I never received any call or other correspondence from anyone from or affiliated with DPH,” said William Pillsbury, director of economic development in Haverhill. “You were the first and only one to inform me of the misrepresentations contained in the application.”

Pillsbury said last week that a conversation that appeared in Healthy Pharms’ application misconstrued a passing conversation he had had with James Jajuga, a former state senator and current Methuen city councilor who was a consultant at the time for Healthy Pharms.

Seven companies applied to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Essex County. Two were proposed each in Salem and in Beverly, and one each in Haverhill, Ipswich and Lawrence. Healthy Pharms in Haverhill and Alternative Therapies Group Inc. in Salem were the only two groups issued licenses in Essex County.

Alternative Therapies Group included a list of multiple Salem officials, including the mayor, city and public safety officials and state legislators in a section characterizing the local community support it had gathered prior to submitting its application in November.

“We weren’t contacted by DPH,” said Grace Harrington, an aide for state Rep. John D. Keenan, D-Salem.

While all the Salem-area officials interviewed said they were not contacted by DPH, they stressed unprompted that Alternative Therapies Group worked hard to address residents’ and officials’ concerns, explain the proposal and meet with as many people around the city as they could.

“DPH did not contact me,” Salem City Councilor Bill Legault said. “I’m unaware of what DPH’s follow-through may have been. I did speak with ATG, maybe in March. ATG approached members of the council and city government very early in the process. We were gratified they did that. They met with neighborhood groups. They took questions, and not necessarily easy questions. They’ve been open and transparent.”

In Beverly, former Mayor William F. Scanlon Jr. said the city took a neutral stance on its two applicants, Andover’s CAS Foundation and Medicinal Evolution Inc.

“We did not get any queries from DPH after the applications were submitted,” Scanlon said. “We took an agnostic stance, neither for nor against, on these applications.”

The Joint Committee on Public Health, chaired by State Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, D-Jamaica Plain, and state Sen. John F. Keenan, D-Quincy, will look into questions surrounding several dispensary applications.

“Speaker DeLeo expects the Department of Public Health to ensure the integrity of the process and is concerned about these reports,” DeLeo’s office said in a statement. “He will ask Chairman Sanchez to take measures to seek out additional information and determine the underlying facts.”

DPH will require the 20 applicants that received a provisional license to, among other things, verify local support and other information in their applications through a separate signed statement before final licenses to operate are issued.

“The department takes any allegation that an applicant provided false information very seriously and reserves the right to take appropriate action,” DPH spokeswoman Anne Roach said in a statement. “None of the dispensary licenses are final. All applications for Registered Marijuana Dispensaries were signed under the pains and penalties of perjury, attesting that they were accurate and complete. DPH has been and will continue to hold discussions with local government officials to discuss any concern and next steps in this process.”

Dispensaries with provisional applications must still undergo a final inspection process and must submit detailed security and business plans, according to DPH.

The applications required an officer of the company to sign “under the pains and penalties of perjury, the authorized signatory ... agrees that all information included in this application is complete and accurate.”

State Sen. Kathleen O’Connor Ives, D-Newburyport, whose district includes Haverhill, said DPH’s last review before issuing final licenses should verify claims of local support in the applications.

“With 20 provisional licenses approved, it’s clear that questions are arising on applications from a number of cities and towns,” she said. “The Department’s review can ascertain if there is misinformation in the applications. What matters is that the will of the Haverhill public is represented as to whether or not Haverhill should be a host community.”