, Salem, MA

February 27, 2014

House speaker wants 'pot farm' licenses scrapped

By Matt Murphy

---- — BOSTON — Citing concerns from elected officials about discrepancies found on the applications for provisional medical marijuana licenses, House Speaker Robert DeLeo on Tuesday night said the Department of Public Health should scrap its work and start over.

DeLeo, a Democrat from Winthrop where there are no conditionally approved marijuana dispensaries, told NECN’s Jim Braude on Broadside yesterday that he has heard from “a number of electeds” who told him their names were included on license applications in support of projects without their permission.

Asked whether the DPH should rescind its preliminary approval for 20 dispensaries, DeLeo said, “Yesterday or this morning, I would have said, ‘No.’ They should just take a look at those where they have found errors.’ Today, I’m probably saying ‘yes,’ because of the fact that I’ve heard other stories today from people who have made applications who said, ‘Not only did (DPH) not review or try to verify what I said, but they didn’t even talk to me in terms of what this process was about.’”

Amesbury has two medical marijuana growing facilities planned. One of them — Green Heart Holistic Health — has come under fire in Boston, where it claimed that it had the support of City Councilor Tito Jackson for a Boston marijuana dispensary. However, Jackson has denied that he gave the company his endorsement.

Good Chemistry, which was granted provisional approval for a dispensary in Boston and a cultivation site in Worcester, has admitted to mistakenly including statements of local support from Worcester-area lawmakers and city councilors in a rush to file its application on time. The Boston City Council plans to hold a hearing next week on the controversies surrounding Green Heart and Good Chemistry.

Similar concerns have been raised about an application for a Haverhill dispensary, and many critics have questioned whether DPH Commissioner Chery Bartlett’s political ties to those associated with license seekers, such as former Congressman William Delahunt, may have tainted the process.

Bartlett removed herself from the licensing process and appointed Karen van Unen as director of the medical marijuana program. Delahunt’s group eventually won three provisional licenses.

The Department of Public Health has put all applications under further review and stressed that final licenses have not yet been issued, but Health and Human Services Secretary John Polanowitz has said he does not believe the department should have to restart the application process.

Gov. Deval Patrick, in a radio appearance on Friday, also said the licensing process did not need to be restarted, citing nine additional steps before final licenses are awarded, including verification of information submitted on applications. He said the fact that the 20 finalists were made public shows the DPH’s desire to be transparent with the process.

“If somebody lied on their application, they’re not going to get a license,” Patrick said, urging the public to “relax” and defending the steps Bartlett took to remove a conflict of interest.

The governor called the inclusion of unauthorized testimonials from public officials in support of dispensaries on application “very, very troubling stuff” but insisted that references would be checked before final licenses are granted.

“I think the public should relax. There’s a lot of interest, a lot of money involved in this industry. There’s going to be sour grapes. There are going to be people dropping dimes, the unsuccessful ones. That’s part of it. At the end of it, we’re going to have licensees we can all be confident in,” Patrick said.