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DPH should reveal scoring data on marijuana dispensaries

MUCH OF THE recent controversy over medical marijuana licenses centers on complaints that some companies exaggerated how much local support they had. The application process gave extra points to firms with letters of support or statements of non-opposition in the places where they plan to open a dispensary. But city officials across the state shied away from writing such letters. Some applicants were unable to show any sign of local support.

So it is understandable that those who failed to get the highly coveted licenses are upset by the notion that some winners may have stretched the truth.

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So far, such complaints have been made about three companies: Good Chemistry, a firm started by a team from Denver, submitted a letter of support from Boston City Councilor Stephen J. Murphy. Murphy says the company failed to inform him about its plan to open in the Back Bay, a location he does not support. Green Heart Holistic, a California firm, claimed to have the support of City Councilor Tito Jackson for its dispensary, which it hopes to open near Boston Medical Center. Jackson says he met with the group but didn’t give his blessing for that neighborhood, which already hosts several methadone clinics.

A third firm, Healthy Pharms, received a license for Haverhill after submitting a letter from City Councilor Robert H. Scatamacchia that said the city was neither in favor nor opposed. Scatamacchia now insists that his letter was not meant to boost the firm’s application and that Healthy Pharms mischaracterized other statements from public officials as endorsements. The companies have apologized for what they have called clerical errors or misunderstandings.

It is crucial that these firms be truthful with the state, and that the selection process is seen as fair. Officials are now verifying letters of support. Companies that deliberately misled the Department of Public Health ought to have their licenses revoked. But these allegations are part of a bigger problem that is not being addressed: NIMBYism. Despite the fact that Massachusetts voters opted overwhelmingly for marijuana dispensaries, risk-averse elected officials are reluctant to volunteer their neighborhoods and towns. Those officials who did write letters of support are bound to get complaints from angry constituents.

But as long as this law exists, there will be a need to find suitable locations for dispensaries. There should be far more public engagement around this issue. It hardly seems preferable to locate dispensaries in remote or economically depressed areas that are more likely to welcome them than near existing medical facilities. These matters require serious thought and debate, not politics and finger-pointing.

Still, the state Department of Public Health should do itself a favor and promptly release the full scoring sheets that it used to determine the licensees, so that the public can see how many points these companies picked up for having “local support.” It’s possible that Good Chemistry and Green Heart were chosen because of their years of experience in Colorado and California, not because of alleged support from Jackson and Murphy. DPH spokesman David Kibbe says that the score sheets will be posted as soon as all the applicants are debriefed. Given the level of public interest, the department ought to expedite that process.

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