A Massachusetts lawmaker says the state should reconsider a dozen applicants that were passed over for medical marijuana licenses in a process that has led to growing criticism.
State Rep. Jeffrey Sánchez told the Massachusetts Department of Public Health that regulators should re-review any MMJ provider that scored at least 137 out of 163 on the state’s ranking system. The companies should be considered “in the same manner” as the 20 that were recently picked for provisional licenses, Sánchez said.
“We’re essentially giving them another look,” he said.
Sánchez wrote a letter to the health department and said the agency should release a list of all provisional license holders once the re-verification is complete.
Voters in Massachusetts approved medical weed in 2012. Regulations were drafted and applications for dispensary licenses were accepted last year.
Under the law, the health department will award a total of 35 licenses, with a minimum of one medical pot shop in each of the state’s 14 counties and a maximum of five. The 20 provisional licenses were awarded in January and can be revoked after further review.
The 12 dispensaries selected by Sánchez for reconsideration were all turned down despite high scores. Six were rejected outright while the rest were told they could reapply at different locations.
The health department released a statement but didn’t say whether it would adopt the lawmaker’s suggestion.
“We thank Rep. Sánchez for his response and look forward to continuing to work with him and his colleagues in the legislature as we establish dispensaries that are responsive to patient needs and community safety,” the department said. Sánchez’s proposals, it said, “are extremely helpful, and we will consider them in our ongoing efforts to ensure a thorough and transparent licensing process.”
The licensing process has generated controversy ever since the provisional winners were announced. The health agency overlooked cultivation experience when ranking applicants, so licenses were awarded to businesses with little to no background in growing weed.
One such company, Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts, received three dispensary licenses despite the fact that its chief of cultivation had never managed a facility and had worked only for small businesses in California. Companies with much greater experience were passed over.
Former U.S. Rep. William Delahunt runs Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts. His arrangement with his business partners, under which up to 50 percent of dispensary revenue would go to them, has raised eyebrows in state government.
Another problem arose when licenses were granted to three pot shops run by a Colorado couple who had shuttered their MMJ store in Boulder over legal violations.
Two of the dispensaries fired John and Diane Czarkowski after their history became public, while the third said it had already done so but had failed to tell state officials.
Sánchez said better verification measures should “ensure that there are no loopholes for non-eligible persons to be involved with a dispensary.” That could mean expanded background check, among other changes, he wrote in his letter.
“This will allow us to learn from the mistakes made this application cycle to ensure that the regulations are air-tight going forward,” Sánchez said.