Conflicts of Interest Tainting Medical Marijuana Process

BOSTON – The Governor’s Office should create an independent commission, similar to the Gaming Commission, to issue medical marijuana licenses because the current process is politicized and secretive. The close ties between Public Health Commissioner Cheryl Bartlett and applicant and former Congressman William Delahunt has created the appearance of a rigged system designed to favor the politically connected at the expense of the critically ill.

Monday’s announcement of the appointment of a new executive director of the state’s medical marijuana program, Karen Van Unen, and news that Van Unen will now solely select the winning license applicants represents a sudden change in the process made without public discussion or input. However, Van Unen’s appointment does not resolve the apparent conflict of interest because she reports directly to Bartlett, a self-described “political animal.”

“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 Rob Cunningham, Executive Director of the MassGOP. “Placing the final decision in the hand of a single individual is an invitation for trouble, and the Patrick Administration is inviting lawsuits and a federal investigation. It’s disturbing that such a transparent process was developed to hand out casino licenses, but the state is handing out licenses to sell marijuana based on a closed door process tainted by conflicts of interest.”

Background

Bartlett is friends with Delahunt and Senate President Murray: “Cheryl Bartlett, the Commissioner of DPH which is the agency that will regulate Medical Marijuana dispensaries, is not only the best friend of the Senate President Therese Murray, but at one time received patronage from both then State Sen. Rauschenbach (R) and then Cong. Delahunt (D).” (Source: Cape Cod Today, Dec. 14, 2013.)

Calling herself a “political animal”: Bartlett once said: “I’ve developed great relationships with legislators. (State) Senator (Henri) Rauschenbach and I have become great friends, and Congressman (Bill) Delahunt.”(Source: The Barnstable Patriot, Oct. 12, 2000.)

Bartlett has donated money to Delahunt: $500 on Oct. 5, 2007, to the Bill Delahunt MA PAC. (Source: Office of Campaign and Political Finance.)

Applicants told decision was Bartlett’s: In an October 2013 conference with medical marijuana applicants, DPH said the decision was Bartlett’s. A slide from a presentation states: “The Selection Committee will present recommendations to the DPH Commissioner. The DPH Commissioner will make the final decision in consultation with the Secretary of the Executive Office of Health and Human Services.”

DPH is agency mired in scandals: The DPH has been at the center of massive, even fatal scandals, failing to properly manage the state crime lab and in regulating compounding pharmacies.(Sources: “State was lax on drug maker,” The Boston Globe, Nov. 13, 2012 and “Mass. Health Commissioner resigns, cites drug lab,” Associated Press, Sept. 17, 2012.)

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