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The Boston Globe

Health & wellness

Marijuana company defends chief’s false claims of college degree

First, his mother died. Then, he became estranged from his father. Those life-changing events during his final college semester so affected Kevin Fisher that he couldn’t focus on whether he actually graduated.

A letter sent this week by Fisher’s medical marijuana company to state health officials described its chief executive’s college years and sought to defend him from assertions that he misled regulators.

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But that letter also acknowledged for the first time that Fisher has no college degree, and it said Fisher would be willing to resign if that’s what it takes to retain provisional dispensary licenses granted by the state Department of Public Health.

Fisher’s company, New England Treatment Access Inc., is the only applicant to receive more than one of the 11 provisional dispensary licenses awarded by the state in June. Nine other applicants were knocked out of the running over questionable finances and for providing misleading information in a selection process riddled with controversy.

This week’s letter is the latest act in a drama that cast New England Treatment into the spotlight.

State health officials had let the company go forward with plans to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Northampton and Brookline — until the discrepancy about Fisher’s academic claims was reported by the Globe this week. The state has since put those licenses on hold.

Fisher, the 38-year-old executive director of New England Treatment and owner of a marijuana business in Colorado, claimed in his Massachusetts dispensary applications that he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Youngstown State University.

But when Fisher applied for a medical marijuana business license in Colorado in 2010, he told regulators there that he did not graduate from Youngstown State and did not list any college degrees on his application, according to a copy of his application filed with the Colorado Department of Revenue’s medical marijuana enforcement division.

In the letter to the state health department, New England Treatment’s chief financial officer, Arnon Vered, said company officials thoroughly reviewed Fisher’s college transcripts and other documents after the false academic claims were revealed and said they believe Fisher was “reasonable” in believing he had graduated college. The letter, however, did not address why Fisher told Colorado regulators he did not graduate from Youngstown State.

“At the end of his college term, Kevin’s mother died after a long battle with cancer and he and his sister became estranged from the father,” Vered wrote.

“For these reasons, Kevin did not focus on his graduation ceremony or receiving his diploma, assuming that he had done the course work necessary to receive a diploma, and would move on with his life,” Vered said.

The letter also said the company secured a copy of Fisher’s Youngstown State University transcript, which revealed he had attended college for four years and, according to the company, had “completed significant course work,” with a “high grade point average of 3.2.”

The letter went on to say, “We do acknowledge that if asked, [Youngstown State] would say that he did not graduate. However, they would support the idea that Kevin could have reasonably assumed he graduated given the course work hours and his acceptance to law school.”

The company’s letter included an attachment from Washington and Lee University School of Law notifying Fisher in March 1999 he had been placed on a waiting list for admission.

“This only further assured Kevin that he was considered a graduate from [Youngstown State],” the letter said.

Vered declined to comment Friday on his communication to the state health department.

His letter said company officials have no reason to think that Fisher “willfully misrepresented his educational background.”

Vered’s letter reminded state officials the company was awarded the highest score among the batch of companies that received provisional licenses in June.

“If it is determined that a leadership change is needed, we will work with [the health department] on any needed changes,” the letter said. “In keeping with his commitment to preserving [New England Treatment’s] mission, Kevin Fisher has offered to resign if that is necessary.”

Dave Kibbe, a spokesman for the state health department, declined to comment on the letter.

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