Governor Deval Patrick said Wednesday the state has put on hold a company’s bid to open medical marijuana dispensaries in Brookline and Northampton following revelations that the director falsely claimed to be a college graduate.
“I’ve said before: If you lie on the application, that is, from my perspective, a nonstarter,” Patrick said after signing an environmental bond bill on Beacon Hill.
Wednesday’s development proved to be the latest detour for the state’s fraught effort to license medical marijuana shops.
The Globe reported Tuesday that the executive director of New England Treatment Access Inc., Kevin Fisher, claimed in the application he earned a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Youngstown State University, but the school said it has no record he received a degree. A screening company hired by the state detected the missing degree in April, but the state let the company go forward with plans to open dispensaries anyway.
Fisher also claimed he previously attended another school, Miami University in Ohio, for two years, when school records show he dropped out after his freshman year.
“We’re trying to understand whether, in fact, it was a lie,” Patrick said. “That’s not clear yet. There’s certainly an inaccuracy, and we’re going to get to the bottom of that.”
New England Treatment Access is the only company to receive more than one of 11 provisional dispensary licenses awarded by the state in June, and new documents obtained by the Globe raise additional questions about whether the firm received preferential treatment.
New England Treatment Access, which is a nonprofit company, told state regulators it intended to give 18 percent of its annual gross revenues to a for-profit company, Fisher Properties Ltd., which is co-owned by Fisher, for consulting and management services, and for the use of proprietary techniques for growing highly sought strains of marijuana.
Fisher, who is president of the nonprofit marijuana company, owns half of the for-profit company, placing him in a position to reap substantial financial benefits from the arrangement. State regulators have declined to release New England Treatment’s documents that outline this arrangement.
Yet regulators in June cited similar financial arrangements in disqualifying two other finalists for licenses, Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts, run by former US representative William Delahunt, who was aiming to open dispensaries in Plymouth, Mashpee, and Taunton, and Brighton Health Advocates, which planned a Fairhaven facility.
“Such corporation must ensure that revenue of the [dispensary] is used solely in furtherance of its nonprofit purpose,” the state health department said in its rejection letters to the two finalists.
Delahunt’s company had proposed 50 percent going to its for-profit company but later amended that to 25 percent after the Globe reported the arrangement and after the former congressman was questioned by state regulators in May. Brighton Health Advocates envisioned a sliding scale payment of up to 20 percent to its for-profit affiliate but scrapped that arrangement in May, too, when questioned by regulators.
“I don’t know what to think,” Shelley Stormo, chief executive of Brighton Health Advocates, said about the state allowing New England Treatment’s 18 percent arrangement. “I would like to see this process further evaluated, and I would like to see them look at our application again. We have too many strengths for them to just throw it out.”
Fisher, in a lengthy e-mail to the Globe on Wednesday, defended his for-profit arrangement, saying that it was “only 18%.” And he said the for-profit arm of New England Treatment Access would forgo compensation until loans used to get the dispensary off the ground are repaid.
He also noted that nonprofit experts hired by his company to review the arrangement determined it was appropriate.
The state health department, which granted the provisional marijuana licenses, asked companies that proposed for-profit partners to provide the agency with a legal opinion on whether the arrangement was responsible and suitable.
Asked why the state health department did not seek its own independent analysis, a department official said in a statement, “Requesting a legal opinion from an applicant is common practice, and the department considered such information, in conjunction with our own legal analysis and other factors, in making its decisions.”
The official also said that New England Treatment is not the only recipient of a provisional dispensary license that intends to pay a percentage of its revenue to a for-profit entity. The official declined to identify those companies.
FISHER DID NOT RESPOND TO QUESTIONS WEDNESDAY ABOUT THE STATE’S DECISION TO PUT THE COMPANY’S APPLICATION ON HOLD.
In interviews last week, Fisher acknowledged that he went to Miami University for only one year, but he said he thought he later graduated from Youngstown State in his hometown. Fisher said he was unable to obtain transcripts from Youngstown State because he owed the school nearly $3,600.
A Youngstown State spokesman confirmed that Fisher attended the school from 1996 to 1998 but could not find any record that he earned a degree.
The company the state hired to perform background checks on firms applying for licenses to sell medical marijuana in Massachusetts originally detected the missing degree in April.
On Monday, a state official suggested the misinformation was irrelevant because the agency did not require executives to hold specific degrees and did not use that as a factor in deciding which companies won licenses to sell marijuana. But Wednesday, DPH spokesman David Kibbe said the “company’s application is on hold until they are able to suitably address this issue.”