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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

State health officials press marijuana winners

Massachusetts health regulators took the unusual step late Wednesday of ordering companies that received medical marijuana dispensary licenses to submit sworn statements that their applications were truthful, while on Beacon Hill the House speaker called for an investigation into whether some dispensary applicants submitted false information.

The Department of Public Health in a statement raised the prospect of rejecting any of the 20 dispensary licenses awarded last month, saying, “None of the dispensary licenses are final.” The companies will now be required to “verify local support and other information provided in the application through a signed attestation to [the agency] before any final licensure is determined.”

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House Speaker Robert A. DeLeo said Wednesday that he became concerned after news reports that several medical marijuana companies receiving state licenses had submitted false information on their applications. He directed the House public health committee chairman to investigate.

“DeLeo expects the Department of Public Health to ensure the integrity of the process,” the speaker’s office said in a statement to the Globe. “He will ask chairman [Jeffrey] Sanchez to take measures to seek out additional information and determine the underlying facts.”

The Globe reported Wednesday that two companies proposing dispensaries in Boston and Haverhill erroneously claimed to have support from local elected officials when they did not. Local support, or at the least, letters of nonopposition from community leaders, were critical in the state’s scoring system for awarding licenses.

The Public Health Department relied on the information submitted by applicants, and neither the agency, nor the outside contractor it hired to review the applications, verified the veracity of the claims of support.

On Wednesday, Boston officials challenged the truthfulness of statements made by a third company, which was awarded a license to open a dispensary at 70 Southampton St., near Boston Medical Center.

Green Heart Holistic Health & Pharmaceuticals claimed in its Nov. 21 application to the state health department to have support from City Councilor Tito Jackson and to have an indication of approval from former mayor Thomas M. Menino, whose term ended in January.

But Jackson and Barbara Ferrer, executive director of the Boston Public Health Commission, told the Globe that those statements were inaccurate.

Green Heart said in its application that it met with Jackson, whose district at the time included the proposed Southampton Street site, and that Jackson “pledged future support upon award of a provisional” license.

The pledge of support is not true, Jackson said in an interview Wednesday.

The city was in the midst of redistricting at that time, Jackson said, meaning that as of January, his district no longer includes that neighborhood.

“I thought it would be unfair to make a decision for a precinct that was going to change hands in less than a month,” Jackson said.

The councilor also said the neighborhood is already home to three methadone treatment clinics and a county jail, and he said he told Green Heart the neighborhood shoulders too heavy a burden.

Jackson raised his concerns during a City Council meeting Wednesday, and said the council plans to invite state public health officials to an upcoming meeting to explain their review of applications.

In its application, Green Heart states that it reached out to Menino, knowing he was about to leave office.

“We have learned that he is favorably disposed to the type and quality of dispensary operation we would run,” the application said. “Numerous close associates in the Boston public safety community have confirmed this understanding.”

Menino was unavailable for comment Wednesday, but Ferrer challenged Green Heart’s assertions. She said Menino delegated to her agency the task of ensuring the city has strong rules to monitor dispensaries once they open, but that she and Menino agreed the city would not endorse individual companies in the application process.

Boston City Councilor Stephen J. Murphy wrote a Nov. 20 letter expressing nonopposition to Green Heart’s application. In the state’s scoring system, companies received extra points if they provided a letter of support or nonopposition from the city council or similar governing body.

Murphy, who was council president until the start of this year, said in an interview Wednesday that when his staff met with Green Heart officials in November, the company was unable to provide them with an exact address for its proposed dispensary.

But a copy of the lease included in the company’s application says a lease was signed in late October for 70 Southampton St.

“They were disingenuous with my staff because my staff said there was no specific site at that point,” Murphy said. “It just sounds like these guys are all playing fast and loose with people.”

One city councilor, Rob Consalvo, wrote a Nov. 19 letter of support for Green Heart. Consalvo, who left office in January after an unsuccessful run for mayor, wrote that Green Heart has “the experience, compassion, and industry reputation to be able to facilitate this undertaking, which is new to our city.” Green Heart’s chief executive runs one of California’s largest medical marijuana dispensaries.

Green Heart’s executive director, Andrew DeAngelo, said in an interview the company did not intend to deceive anyone.

“If there was any error of understanding along the way, we will take full responsibility for that and we will make it right,” DeAngelo said.

When asked how the company intended to do that, he said, “we will reach out to them and try to determine the source of the misunderstanding. The last thing we want is for elected officials to not be happy with us.”

Kay Lazar can be reached at Kay.Lazar@globe.com.

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