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High marks for marijuana applicants, but no licenses

Applicants say changes state suggested led nowhere

One of the companies received the second-highest score among the dozens that applied for Massachusetts’ first medical marijuana dispensary licenses. Another tied for fourth-highest.

In all, five companies awarded some of the highest marks during licensing evaluations were skipped over in January because one of their executives didn’t pass a background check. But they were told by regulators that if they removed the person, the company would still be in the running, according to interviews with the firms’ officials and documents obtained by the Globe.

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The five applicants followed state regulators’ directions and dropped the executives, but were then rejected for licenses in late June without explanation.

Executives from the five deferred companies said in interviews with the Globe that the state Department of Public Health misled them and that its rejection of their applications underscores a lack of transparency and fairness in the high-stakes selection process. They said that the department, which licenses marijuana dispensaries, has not returned their e-mails and calls since the June decision.

“If the department were to offer us a reason, or even engage in a meaningful dialogue with us on what went wrong with our application, we are all ears,” said Andrea Nuciforo Jr., general counsel and treasurer of Kind Medical Inc., a deferred company that had proposed a dispensary in Easthampton.

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“What the law does not allow is for the department to score an applicant very high, ask them to make a minor tweak, and walk them down the primrose path for five months,” Nuciforo said.

He and representatives of the other deferred companies said the state appeared to treat them differently than some applicants that were selected after removing executives with checkered pasts, including one consultant who was arrested last December for allegedly exposing himself in public.

Asked about the companies’ complaints, a spokesman for the health department declined to make the director of the medical marijuana program available for an interview, or to answer questions, and instead issued a statement.

“The Department’s initial background check process uncovered certain suitability issues with these applicants, and they were notified that the Department had exercised its discretion to not proceed with their applications,” it stated.

“While these applicants may have submitted additional information after being notified that they had not been selected, the Department did not change its decision.”

But that’s not exactly what the companies were told in a Jan. 31 letter from Karen van Unen, executive director of the marijuana program. She wrote that their applications “will not be selected at this time,” then added, “Your application is deferred from proceeding further in the review process pending resolution of a matter discovered on a background check involving an individual identified in your application.”

In addition to Kind Medical, the companies receiving this letter were: Mass Organic Therapy Inc. in Plymouth, Baystate Medical Enterprises/Beacon Wellness Center in Franklin, JM Farm’s Patient Group in Deerfield, and BeWell Organic Medicine Inc. in Lawrence.

The deferred companies’ executives said they also received private assurances from state health officials that their applications were still in the running, and they were encouraged not to speak to the news media about their status.

Rina Cametti, president of Baystate Medical Enterprises/Beacon Wellness Center, said that during a February meeting with the health department’s lawyer, Kay Doyle, Cametti noted that she had been getting calls from reporters asking why the company had not been selected for a provisional license, though it had received the fourth-highest score.

“I said I had not spoken to the media,” Cametti said, describing that meeting with Doyle. “She thanked me for that and said we appreciate you being discreet, and it speaks volumes about your professionalism.”

Background checks on the deferred applicants by a consultant for the health department turned up a range of concerns regarding an executive or board member, including motor vehicle violations, an assault, problems with child support payments, and an incorrectly filled prescription by a pharmacist a decade ago.

Other companies that won initial approval in January were later allowed to remove executives or key consultants from their teams before being awarded provisional licenses in June. Among those are three companies whose managers included Diane or John Czarkowski, a husband-and-wife team forced to shut down their Colorado medical marijuana facility for numerous violations. Also licensed was a company tapped for a Brockton medical marijuana dispensary, even though its compliance officer was arrested in December for allegedly exposing himself to a woman.

On Dec. 14, the month before In Good Health won preliminary approval from the state, Douglas Noble, the company’s then-director of compliance and regulatory affairs, was arrested by Scituate police and charged with two counts of open and gross lewdness after a woman working alone at a dry cleaner complained that he twice exposed himself to her, according to court documents.

Boston attorney Philip A. Tracy Jr., who represents Noble, said: “He claims it’s a total misunderstanding or mistake. He had loose-fitting clothes on . . . he’s not guilty, and we intend to pursue it.” He said Noble, 60, had no prior criminal record.

Noble, a South Shore businessman, has faced numerous civil claims, including a lawsuit by creditors for hundreds of thousands of dollars in debts run up by health facilities he co-owned.

David Ball, a spokesman for In Good Health, said the company notified state health officials in March that Noble was no longer associated with the firm. A copy of a letter that Ball said was sent to state health officials notes that company officials met with state regulators on March 17, and that Noble resigned the next day.

Ball said that Noble resigned because he was “dealing with a number of personal and professional issues,” and that regulators never raised questions about Noble’s December arrest, nor his problems with creditors, which were highlighted in a February Globe story.

Noble resigned four days after regulators sent applicants notices stating that anyone “who will have any involvement” with the firms would be subject to expanded background checks.

Kay Lazar can be reached
at Kay.Lazar@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @GlobeKayLazar. Shelley Murphy can be reached at Shelley.Murphy@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @ShelleyMurph.

 Correction: Because of an editing error, the graphic accompanying the print version of this article incorrectly characterized the scores given to dispensary applicants. Applicants approved in January for provisional licenses earned scores ranging from 137 to 160, out of a possible 163 points.

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