State Defends Medical Marijuana Licensing Process

The state is defending its heavily criticized process for selecting companies to run medical marijuana dispensaries, but it still has not provided an explanation for its failure to verify applicants' information until after approving provisional licenses.

In an 18-page letter to a state lawmaker investigating the licensing process, the head of Massachusetts's medical marijuana program insisted that the Public Health Department "rigorously verifies" information in the applications and "investigates any allegations that information provided is not accurate."

The letter, which was dated March 7 and made public this week, comes amid several media reports questioning the qualifications of key staff members of several dispensaries and documented misstatements made by applicants.

House Speaker Robert DeLeo asked Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez last month to examine how the state selected the companies.

Sanchez told The Boston Globe that his investigation is ongoing and he has many more questions for the head of the program.

Twenty dispensaries have been given preliminary approval.

"Why did (the Department of Public Health) not review the veracity prior to the award of provisional licenses?" Sanchez asked the Health Department. "Were there mechanisms in place to investigate potential application fraud or conflicts of interest?"

In her response, Karen van Unen, executive director of the state medical marijuana program, didn't answer those questions. Instead, she noted that "all applicants signed a sworn statement, under the pains and penalties of perjury, indicating that the information provided in their application was complete and accurate."

Van Unen also appeared to back away from a requirement that applicants pay a nonrefundable $50,000 fee if approved. Now she says those fees will be refunded, even if the companies provided inaccurate information.

This article was originally published on March 11, 2014.


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