SalemNews.com, Salem, MA

Nation/World

January 17, 2014

State med pot process draws renewed fire

BOSTON — Massachusetts Republicans are calling for a change in the medical marijuana licensing process, describing it as “politicized and secretive” and alleging that the state public health commissioner is too closely associated with former Congressman William Delahunt — who is among several license applicants with political ties.

As regulators close in on decisions this month for up to 35 dispensary licenses, the MassGOP yesterday requested that Gov. Deval Patrick abandon the licensing process and create an independent commission similar to the Massachusetts Gaming Commission to handle licensing for medical marijuana dispensaries and cultivation facilities.

The party took particular issue with Department of Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett’s close ties to Delahunt and former state Sen. Henri Rauschenbach, both involved in the application process, to whom she has previously referred as “great friends.” Bartlett has donated campaign funds to Delahunt in the past.

“The public cannot have faith in the decisions made by the Department of Public Health because of the apparent conflict of interest for Commissioner Bartlett and the secrecy surrounding the awarding of licenses,” MassGOP Executive Director Rob Cunningham said in a statement.

The Department of Public Health earlier this week named Karen van Unen, the former chief operating officer of a Dorchester public health program, as executive director of its medical marijuana program.

A selection committee convened in December by the DPH plans this month to present to van Unen its final recommendations on registered marijuana dispensary applications.

In all, 100 applicants are competing for up to 35 licenses. State officials must award at least one but no more than five dispensary licenses per county.

Two nonprofits, Alternative Therapies Group and Good Chemistry of Massachusetts, have both entered the second and final phase of the state’s application process to open a dispensary in Salem.

The state’s selection committee will make licensing recommendations to van Unen. DPH officials said on Monday that van Unen will have final sign-off on all recommendations. Republicans said van Unen’s appointment amounted to a “sudden change” in the licensing process and would not eliminate conflict because she reports directly to Bartlett.

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