A company that was awarded a medical marijuana dispensary license in Lowell and is vying for two more in Massachusetts appears to have overstated the scope of its operations at a counseling and research program for HIV and AIDS patients at dispensaries it owns in other cities.
The company, known in Massachusetts as Patriot Care Corp., said in its application for a Massachusetts license that the AIDS program was “in place” in other cities, including Washington, D.C., but company officials provided conflicting accounts this week about whether the program is indeed operating.
“It is not operating in DC yet very simply due to the fact we do not have enough patients,” Patriot Care spokesman Dennis Kunian said Wednesday. And it has yet to be launched in other cities, he said
Kunian said the company did not mislead Massachusetts health regulators by stating the program was “in place,” because it had been organized and was “ready to go” once there were enough patients.
A day later, after the Globe called regulators in Washington and Massachusetts, Patriot Care’s officials made an abrupt about face and offered a different account, saying a pilot program had been running since the dispensary opened in Washington.
They were, however, unable to say how many patients have received counseling or other services from the AIDS and HIV program.
The program, Integrated Medical Marijuana and Care program or IMMAC, was to be the cornerstone of the company’s operations in Washington, helping to “redefine the concept of a model dispensary,” according to its application submitted to city regulators in November 2011.
IMMAC would provide “comprehensive and individualized counseling and treatment plans for each patient” and also monitor whether patients were taking medications prescribed by their physicians, according to the application. The company assured Washington regulators that it would be running when the company opened there in July 2013.
The revelation is the latest chapter in Massachusetts’ protracted selection system to award highly coveted medical marijuana dispensary licenses. Nearly half of the applicants tapped for licenses in January have since been knocked out of the running over questionable finances or for providing misleading information.
Patriot Care is the only license holder in Massachusetts to have been invited by state regulators to apply for two more. The company recently submitted applications for dispensaries in Boston and in Greenfield. Patriot Care goes by the name Capital City Care in Washington.
Patricia Hawkins, the clinical psychologist who created IMMAC, told the City Council in Washington in March 2013 that Capital City Care would be “offering these critically important services on-site” as soon as the city’s board of health began its patient registration process, according to a copy of her testimony from that hearing.
But last week, she lamented in an interview with the Globe that a lack of patients at Capital City Care’s Washington dispensary forced IMMAC to be put on hold.
“All I want to do is get this working because I really think it will make a difference for these AIDS patients,” said Hawkins, a leader in Washington’s AIDS community for three decades. “The IMMAC program is designed and ready to be implemented, but I can’t say we actually have patients.”
In a separate interview last week, Leigh Slaughter, a lawyer who created a partnership with Hawkins and was to provide case management and legal counseling for IMMAC, said she and Hawkins invested their own money in the program and spent hours developing it. But then they were told by one of the company’s top executives, Nicholas Vita, that they could not launch it because the Washington dispensary did not have enough patients. “We could never get it off the ground,” Slaughter said.
Kunian acknowledged in an interview Wednesday that the program, envisioned to launch first in Washington and then extend to the company’s Arizona facility, had not yet started.
Those accounts changed after Globe inquiries to regulators and to an AIDS organization in Washington.
Hawkins, in an e-mail Thursday, said that she offered the IMMAC counseling services to some of her private patients before the dispensary opened and that those patients continue to receive these services in a “pilot” phase of the program.
Yet a spokesman for Whitman-Walker Health, a leading Washington community health center that specializes in HIV care, said no one at the clinic, nor health providers affiliated with the center, had ever heard of the program. Shawn Jain also said that they had not heard of any medical marijuana programs in the city that are “specifically targeting HIV/AIDS patients.”
Kunian insisted in an interview Thursday that the company’s “pilot” program had been operating at the Washington dispensary since it opened over a year ago. “I was obviously not up to speed when I spoke to you yesterday,” Kunian said. “Shame on me.”
When asked why Hawkins and Slaughter had yet to be paid if the program was running, Kunian said the dispensary did not have the resources now, but would pay them later.
In its Massachusetts applications for dispensary licenses last November, Patriot Care told regulators that its company was, even then, on very solid footing. It wrote that in Washington, D.C. “our licensed dispensaries already boast market share of over 58 percent because of the value and quality we provide.”
Additionally, public records on the Washington health department website show that as of Thursday, more than 1,100 patients in the city are registered to receive medical marijuana and that at least 15 percent of them live in the neighborhood where the Capital City dispensary is located.
The health department’s website also shows that Hawkins and Slaughter, who were to be running the IMMAC program at Capital City, have expired registrations, a document needed to work in a dispensary in Washington.
“If they are working in a registry and it is expired, that would violate our regulations and we would investigate,” said Rikin Mehta, senior deputy director of the health department’s Health Regulation and Licensing Administration.
Kunian said of the expired registrations: “They have not renewed it yet because any patients they are seeing, they are seeing in Pat’s private office. When they have more patients in the system, they will be renewing it.”
But Mehta said Washington regulations do not require dispensary companies to follow through with many of the programs promised in their 2011 applications. He said most companies pledged educational and other services in their applications to win points in the license review process.