Lawmaker probing marijuana licenses says more applicants should be included in review

A key lawmaker reviewing the controversial selection process for medical marijuana companies in Massachusetts on Thursday said the state Department of Public Health should reconsider some of the highly rated groups that lost out in the initial awarding of provisional licenses.

“We’re essentially giving them another look,” said state Representative Jeffrey Sanchez, who House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo tapped last month to investigate the issuing of the licenses.

Sanchez wrote in a letter to the health department that any company that scored at least 137 out of a possible 160 on its application should get another review “in the same manner” as the those that recently were selected for the 20 provisional licenses.

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“Then DPH should re-release the list of provisional registration recipients after the entire verification phase has been completed,” Sanchez wrote.

The representative’s recommendations came after questions surfaced regarding the qualifications of key staff of several dispensary companies and possible misstatements that firms made in their applications concerning support from local officials.

The public health department will ultimately award up to 35 licenses to operate marijuana dispensaries in the state. The 20 provisional licenses awarded last month are subject to further review.

Sanchez’s recommendation, if adopted by DPH, would effectively add a dozen companies to the group still in contention for the first 20 licenses. All told, DPH currently lists six companies as “not selected at this time” and six more as “invited to seek alternate location.”

In a statement, DPH did not say whether the agency would adopt Sanchez’s proposal.

“We thank Representative Sanchez 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 statement said, adding that Sanchez’s “recommendations are extremely helpful and we will consider them in our ongoing efforts to ensure a thorough and transparent licensing process.”

Among the groups not selected was Mass Organic Therapy Inc., which scored 158 and lost out to a company headed by former Congressman William Delahunt for a provisional license to open a dispensary in Plymouth. Delahunt's group, Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts, scored a perfect 160.

But questions have emerged about an arrangement in which the nonprofit led by Delahunt would give 50 percent of its revenue from three marijuana licenses to a management firm controlled by the former congressman and his business partners in the dispensary.

Attempts to reach Patrik Jonsson, chief executive of Mass Organic, and Delahunt were unsuccessful on Thursday night.

Officials from several other companies either could not be reached or declined to comment.

Among the concerns raised about applicants have been the business practices of John J. Czarkowski and his wife, Diane, who were forced to shut down their Colorado medical marijuana facility for numerous violations.

But the couple then resurfaced in Massachusetts, as the managers of three companies that won preliminary state approval in January to run medical marijuana dispensaries. Two of those companies cut ties with the couple after the revelation, and a third said it had severed relations earlier, but had failed to notify state officials.

Sanchez wrote in his letter to the health department that expanding the field under review for the first round of licenses was a matter of fairness.

“We do not want to undermine the hard work of applicants who followed DPH instructions and were truthful in their applications,” Sanchez said.

He declined to say in a phone interview if he felt any of the companies that currently have preliminary approval are undeserving, since he has not viewed all of the applications.

“At the end of the day, remember, the scoring process is one thing, but [DPH is] making administrative decisions as well,” he said.

Sanchez also questioned in his letter why ICF International, a firm that was paid $335,449 to review the applications, score them, and write summary reports, was selected for the task.

“At any point, did you [DPH] consider re-issuing the [request for proposals] to solicit more [bids], perhaps from companies with specific medical marijuana experience?” he wrote.

In addition, Sanchez, who chairs the Joint Committee on Public Health, questioned in the letter why the state has apparently reversed course on a requirement that applicants pay a nonrefundable $50,000 fee if they were selected for preliminary approval.

Karen van Unen, executive director of the state medical marijuana program, said last week that the state would refund those fees, even if companies provided inaccurate information.

“Why the change in policy?” Sanchez wrote.

The public health department did not address his questions about the refund and ICF International in a statement the agency provided to the Globe.

A spokesman for DeLeo said the House speaker “applauds Chairman Sanchez for his hard work in this area and looks forward to meeting with him as he completes his final review.”