By Matt Murphy
STATE HOUSE NEWS SERVICE
STATE HOUSE -- 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 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.' "
Good Chemistry, which was granted provisional approval for a dispensary in the Back Bay 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.
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.
Applicants who say they played by the rules are also expressing dismay over some officials such as DeLeo calling for the process to be rebooted.
Jane Heatley, a West Barnstable resident and president of the William Noyes Webster Foundation, received one of the 20 provisional license approvals for a medical marijuana dispensary in South Dennis.
"There are clearly problems with some of the applications and it appears some applicants may not have told the truth on their applications or may have turned in incomplete applications. However, there are also non-profits like the one we have started which have played by the rules and told the truth, spent hundreds of thousands of dollars on exhaustive plans and done absolutely nothing wrong. We have not played on political connections or sought to cut corners. Why should we have to 'start over'?," Heatley said in a statement.
Heatley told the News Service that the foundation is already signing contracts, interviewing workers and responding to prospective patients seeking relief from pain caused by AIDS or cancer.
"By all means, take away the licenses of those who did not play by the rules - but don't throw out the good projects with the bad and don't punish people in pain by making them wait even longer for help," she said.
Van Unen said this month she expects medical marijuana dispensaries to be open by the summer, and state officials are setting up one-on-one meetings with each approved applicant to explain inspectional processes, security procedures and product testing policies and steps they need to comply with before receiving final certificates of registration.
Provisional licensees are also being urged to connect with local officials and boards of health to work through zoning, permitting and issues surrounding expectations, van Unen told municipal officials at a meeting on Beacon Hill.
The Department of Public Health's medical marijuana page cites the month of March as the time for the verification phase of the licensing process, including verifying letters of local support and meeting with municipalities to confirm citing and local support.