The Massachusetts House has backed away from a call for the state to start over in its review of medical marijuana dispensary applications. But House leaders are recommending that the Department of Public Health (DPH) stop and make some changes before continuing what they say is a flawed process.
In a letter released Thursday, Rep. Jeffrey Sanchez, the House chairman of the Joint Committee on Public Health, listed three recommendations:
1) Go back and verify all the information submitted by every applicant who scored 137 or more points. This would add eight groups to the list of 20 that were cleared for provisional status.
2) In the future, verify information submitted before selecting applicants for provisional licenses.
3) Close loopholes that might let "non eligible persons" maintain an interest in a dispensary.
"We want to make sure that we are responsible to this voter-approved law that was passed and that we’re able to identify any problems relative to who these folks are," Sanchez said.
Before Sanchez sent the letter, House Speaker Robert DeLeo told the Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce that he doesn’t understand why DPH checked some information, but not all the paperwork, before narrowing the list of applicants.
"My problem," DeLeo said, "is I would have preferred that you [DPH] do all vetting upfront before any decisions are made."
DPH issued a statement saying it will continue to work with the Legislature and will consider the recommendations in an effort "to ensure a thorough and transparent licensing process."
But the department and the House are overlooking the main objection raised by those who were not selected: the way applications were scored.
"Much more needs to be done to a process that’s revealing itself to be flawed and inadequate in every respect," said Joshua Resnek, spokesman for the Centers for Alternative Medicine, whose application to open a dispensary in East Boston was rejected.
Resnek and his group have asked DPH to recalculate their score. Several other groups who were rejected have filed suit against the state.
While some applicants are fighting to overturn the application process, others with provisional approval have millions invested in leases, planned renovations and growing facilities where they anticipated planting marijuana next month.
With all this wrangling, patients are left wondering if they will, as the state has said, be able to purchase marijuana at a legal dispensary sometime this summer.