You can now read 10 articles in a month for free on BostonGlobe.com. Read as much as you want anywhere and anytime for just 99¢.

The Boston Globe

Opinion

JOAN VENNOCHI

Smoke clouds Bill Delahunt’s big score

Scott Cramer; iStockphoto/Globe Staff Illustration

YOU KNOW what they say about pot. It gives you the munchies.

It certainly whetted Bill Delahunt’s appetite.

Continue reading below

One license to dispense medical marijuana wasn’t enough for the prosecutor turned congressman turned lobbyist. He went for three and got three — perhaps with a little help from his friends, as Ringo Starr might put it.

Cheryl Bartlett, the state public health commissioner whose agency picked the lucky 20 applicants who won licenses to operate medical marijuana dispensaries, previously held fund-raisers for Delahunt and attended charity events with him. As the Globe reported, it wasn’t until the final weeks of application review that Bartlett disclosed her longtime political association with Delahunt. At the last minute, Bartlett delegated the licensing choice to her deputy, who awarded three licenses to Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts, the nonprofit company founded by Delahunt. No other firm got more than two.

Questions are now being raised about license requests submitted by other applicants, as well.

As a result, House Speaker Robert DeLeo is belatedly concerned, and health regulators are now asking companies that received the licenses to submit sworn statements that their applications were truthful. Isn’t truthfulness something regulators should be checking for in the first place?

But they didn’t. According to the Globe, two companies proposing dispensaries in Boston and Haverhill said they had support from local officials when they did not.

In Delahunt’s case, the questions relate to his close ties to Bartlett and the credentials of the California resident, Avis Bulbulyan, who was hired by Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts to run its cultivation site and dispensaries in Plymouth, Mashpee, and Taunton. Bulbulyan was initially listed as an executive of the company, but in the final application he was taken off the leadership team.

That allowed him to skip an extensive background check, which would have revealed that an Avis Bulbulyan of Glendale, Calif., filed for personal bankruptcy in 2011. A Globe review of the case shows Bulbulyan owed about $44,000 to a dozen creditors, including a loan company that repossessed his BMW in 2009.

A spokesman for the public health commissioner said Bartlett had “no role” in the final selection process. And in an interview with WBUR’s Sacha Pfeiffer, Delahunt dismissed the idea that political connections played any role in his selection.

“I don’t even know the individual who actually made the final decision,” he said. That’s because the person he did know was technically removed as the decision-maker, shortly before the official decision. But you’d have to have been stoned to believe the final selection happened in a merit-based vacuum.

The Massachusetts Republican Party does not believe that. “The public cannot have faith in the decisions made by the Department of Public Health because of the apparent conflict of interest for Commissioner Bartlett and the secrecy surrounding the awarding of licenses,” said state GOP executive director Rob Cunningham.

About that secrecy, the public health agency has repeatedly declined to release the scores awarded to applicants during the evaluation process. Maybe if the scores were released, there would be less skepticism about the process.

According to Delahunt, his proposed dispensaries garnered the highest scores given by an independent consultant. But if the scores were based on the credentials of the local team behind Medical Marijuana of Massachusetts, they were based on a distorted picture.

Delahunt will be paid $250,000 a year as chief executive of the company. But he won’t be involved with daily operations, and neither will other locals who made up the team that supposedly impressed regulators. Bulbulyan is the person slated to oversee the day-to-day business of dispensing medical marijuana.

In his WBUR interview, Delahunt said he was driven by “a passion” to provide alternatives to prescription drugs, which have led to an epidemic of addiction.

Of course, there’s irony in marijuana’s embrace by a former prosecutor who put people behind bars for possessing it. Based on FBI crime reporting data, and data provided by marijuana activist Jon Gettman, Boston Magazine blogger Luke O’Neil estimated that during Delahunt’s 20 years as Norfolk district attorney, “somewhere around 10,000 people . . . had their lives upended under Delahunt’s authority.”

Of course that was then. Medical marijuana is big lucrative business, and Delahunt’s “passion” just earned him a big bite of it.

Joan Vennochi can be reached at vennochi@globe.com. Follow her on Twitter @Joan_Vennochi.
Loading comments...

You have reached the limit of 10 free articles in a month

Stay informed with unlimited access to Boston’s trusted news source.

  • High-quality journalism from the region’s largest newsroom
  • Convenient access across all of your devices
  • Today’s Headlines daily newsletter
  • Subscriber-only access to exclusive offers, events, contests, eBooks, and more
  • Less than 25¢ a week